Quite Remarkable

Combined Counties League, Division 1
Bedfont & Feltham FC v Spelthorne Sports FC
Saturday, 21st December 2013, 3pm
The Orchard
Entrance £3, Programme £1
Distance 9 miles, Attendance ?
Even by the finest of 5 Live’s standards, the eulogy to David Coleman was deservedly brilliant and engaging. Like Out of the Blue, his voice was a constant melody that had tiptoed through my life, via the BBC airwaves; from my childhood to that of my children, his impeccable tones informed and wowed generations of sports fans.
Humble yet determined, David was a rare genius; as comfortable with the sporting giants as he was with cross country minnows. A keen runner whose competitive career was ended by injury, Coleman laid the foundations for his extraordinary media career within the Stockport Express and military service, before approaching Auntie about covering the very 1952 Olympic trials he was no longer able to compete in. Breaking on to (black and white) television two years later – the very day Roger Banister broke the back of the colourful Chariots of Fire storyline – by the ’68 Mexico Games he is alleged to have broken 200 words-per-minute assisting David Hemery to gold.
Looking to break no such records myself, I’d only wanted to get to Sussex-by-the-Sea by kick-off time but, first the weather and then the news of Coleman’s passing knocked both me and the fixture list for six. Targeting a Fellow Yellows game in Newhaven, I’d drawn up a list of “en route substitute” matches in case the gales battered the chosen one. Within 2 very short hours, the entire Sussex League – including my entire hit list – was totally decimated. In the resulting flurry of activity, I desperately scoured the internet for a Plan B.
Of course, I could have taken the extraordinary (Plan C) step of dragging my arse across to Suffolk, to see Giuseppe Sannino’s first game in the Hornet hot seat but, at £35-a-pop – over twice the cost of Dortmund’s Südtribüne – I find such pricing utterly bewildering. At this juncture I could name a host of vastly over-inflated clubs however, as The Tractor Boys were Watford’s opponents on Saturday, one has to wonder, do Ipswich Town genuinely believe the sport on offer at Portman Road is actually worth £35? Second division (certainly) mid-table (for now) mediocrity (if form is to be believed)… Watford or not, is that over twice as valuable as Borussia Dortmund… really? Taking the cheapest travel option to IP1, the cost of petrol, programme, refreshments and ticket would be nearly £100 for me alone; far more than I have paid to attend top division football on the continent. Exactly two months ago even their own Supporters’ Trust stated “It seemed to us that the Club is happy to continue having crowds of only 15,000 to 17,000 and that the certainty of knowing the costs of staging a match in advance outweighs the idea of getting more people into the ground.” Anyhow, for those wanting a fair report of said game, totally gratis, Fran produces wonderfully detailed Watford accounts.
Having got worked up over this, and very quickly rejected such expenditure, I set myself a maximum price of £35 (ALL IN) for the Plan B match. On any given Saturday – something many clubs would do well to remember – this is a pathetically easy task to achieve; even today, with the awful weather, options were available.
131221 CCLD1 Bedfont&Feltham v Spethorne Sports (2)b
Pulling into The Orchard under Heathrow’s flight path – it really is at very close quarters to the runway – I parked up, donned extra socks and plunged myself into the damp cold. Almost running into pony rides, as children enjoyed the club’s Christmas Party, I made a beeline for the turnstiles. Five minutes later – with entrance, programme and Bovril secured – it was already apparent that any attempt to get close to Ipswich’s ticket price today, was going to be completely futile.
???????????????????????????????Through the fine mist, on a practice pitch I could clearly make out the home team warming up, including one festively sporting a Santa hat. Wondering if it might be a punishment; I turned my attention to the main arena. I’d seen it before, from over the fence in next door Bedfont Sports FC but this was my first visit to the former home of Bedfont FC. On either side of the pitch sit small well kept stands, the near end is home to a clubhouse with all the appropriate facilities and, at the far end – still displaying the former landlord’s name – is a covered terrace. It may not have had the gradient of the Kop but this was, given the weather conditions, the perfect shelter for Bryan Roberts and myself, as we put the beautiful game to rights between the action.
131221 CCLD1 Bedfont&Feltham v Spethorne Sports (34)bFurther reading reveals that the combined ancestry of both Bedfont & Feltham Football Clubs is a tangled one with numerous spurs and, one I’ll have to leave for another day. Fast-forward to today; despite the clubs’ merger, last season to satisfy entry rules for the FA Vase, the club didn’t adopt its new full title until August. They also may have lost a prominent striker to another local team with slightly deeper pockets however; the Yellows are now a club comfortably ticking over with sponsorship and books balanced for both this and next season. They’ve also recently started up youth teams of U9, U11, U15 and U18 and, having started training with the first team the latter have won their last three games.
Mulling over this education, offered by one amiable member of the committee – as the rain continued to fall – we finished by turning our attention to the forthcoming game, the reasonable state of the pitch and, the almost certain reaction of the groundsman by 5pm. “Still, we’ve got a few in.” he quipped dryly “We might even be able to pay the ref” before bidding me good day and, hurrying back towards the clubhouse prior to the teams emerging.

131221 CCLD1 Bedfont&Feltham v Spethorne Sports (16)b

As they lined up – front and centre – it was evident that some would rather have still been in the warm, though the opening exchanges gave little else away. The ball fizzed across the surface as passes went astray. When the totally expected challenges came in, the officials thankfully took the conditions into account and, whilst these tackles of another era continued throughout (much to my enjoyment) there appeared little between these two, in this top-of-the-table class; nothing that is apart from the robust weather and an equally robust number 9.
Getting his first on four minutes, Lee Staples stooped to head home, after Yellows keeper Balazs Berta had failed to hold a long cross swirling in the wind. An equaliser arrived fifteen minutes later, when Luke Craig’s low cross was unfortunately redirected into his own net by Junior Wright. Another Luke Craig cross was missed, or fumbled, by everyone in the box, Spelly’s Josh Remedios’ fine pass was shot over, corners at both ends were headed wide, Gary Philips punched onto his own post and, Santa appeared at the turnstiles. The last notable action of the half saw the visitors retake the lead from a corner, as Oliver Fayed scored from close range.
131221 CCLD1 Bedfont&Feltham v Spethorne Sports (26)bWith Spelthorne kicking with the wind, Bedfont & Feltham were on the back foot from the start of the second period. Each time they attacked, the counter was both swift and ruthless. Just after the restart (which Bryan and I might have missed coming back from the warm bar), Simo Mbonkwi got Spelly’s third, Staples headed the fourth and, Jeff Stenning fired in the fifth at the second attempt. Even at this stage I’m not sure there was too much between the teams. Whilst good endeavour, heavy challenges and, substitutions kept the encounter interesting; there was little the Yellows could do to avert defeat.
Heading back to our cars at the final whistle, my mind drifted east towards Portman Road. I wasn’t sorry I’d stayed in London but curiosity of Beppe’s first had got the better of me.
As I listened to first Out of the Blue and then Sport Report, the radio tiptoed through the day’s highlights, before offering tributes to the late great David Coleman. Whilst his passion clearly lay in track & field, our David was a leading light for sport as a whole; hosting Grandstand, Match of the Day and Sportsnight, before duelling with Emlyn and Bill on Question of Sport. He was a impressive and impartial presenter. His knowledge and infection for sport were truly irrepressible. As the words really made fine company for the journey home, I should have been deep in blinkered reminiscence and, would have been, but for one very crass editorial decision.
Here was the BBC recalling one of their former greats, telling of the equal efforts he afforded any sport he was covering; whether Olympic 100m Final, or County Cross County, Coleman new his stuff and treated every sportsman and woman alike. Clearly David Coleman WOULD have promoted the Combined Counties League (and the very entertaining game I had attended) with the same passion he would the Championship one at Portman Road. The BBC knew this, that’s was the message they were filling the airwaves with yet, how did Auntie kick off his eulogy to this late Great Britain? With an advert solely for the elite in English football…. “ELEVEN COMMENTARIES, COUNT THEM ELEVEN!” In far too many ways this just seemed, quite remarkable.


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