Hellenic Premier League
Ascot United FC v Abingdon Town FC
Saturday, 29th March 2014, 3pm
Entrance £5, Programme £1
Distance 20 miles, Attendance 46
“COME ON!!! We’ve got to be more disappointed than them” yelled imposing centre back Joe Yeates, at his team mates, as they ambled back to the half way line.
It’s a strange turn of phrase for a team that had just gone two up but, thirty five minutes in, Big Joe was not a happy bunny.
Going into the match, Ascot sat third in a division that sees just one side promoted, to the Southern League. Neither leaders Ardley United (played 32, points 73, goal difference +54) nor Wantage Town (pl 30, pts 72, gd +48) were in action and of the chasing pack, only Ascot United (pl 31, pts 66, gd +52) had a realistic chance of catching them.
As they prepared for the match, Ascot – The Yelllamen – were the top goal scorers in the division; their opponents, basement club Abingdon Town (pl 29, pts 6, gd -82) were still without a win. In short, the former were having a pretty good season; the latter were not. Of all the games in the football pyramid, this game probably had one of the highest chances of a bumper score line. Setting off from home, I knew this, and I’m pretty sure Big Joe did too.
No disrespect to Abingdon Town – four times winners of this division – but I’ve never seen any team score double figures and the draw for me is immense. The closest I came was Watford’s 8-0 spanking of Sunderland in 1982 and even then, I missed one – Luther Blissett’s third of his four – due to a toilet break.
Back to the matter in hand; the sun was shining, I was in a lovely part of Royal Berkshire and, the home team was wearing yellow… what could possibly go wrong? Finding the road had proved a little tricky due to public enemy number satnav one but, turning past the grandstand, the parking was ample and the welcome on the gate refreshingly unlike all my worst experiences this season. No bag search, no padding down and emptying of pockets, no confiscating bottle tops and certainly no camera inspection (take note Lens) just “ six pounds please” and “have a nice match; the tea bar is on the left”
Determined to keep my ten-goal emotions in check, and my feet firmly on the floor, I followed the path towards the pitch. On the right sat a small covered stand; to the left the immaculate clubhouse. The dugouts were on the far side of the perimeter fence. The surrounding rural area comprised of woodland and/or (horse) race track of Royal Ascot.
By the time I’d got my bearings, the teams were deep into their warm up so, grabbing a mug of coffee I found a decent vantage point in the sunshine and waited for the fun to start.
3.00 – In a combination of both home and away kits, the Abbots kick off.
3.01 – GOAL 1-0: Jermaine Roche scores for Ascot, in a one-on-one with keeper Jake Butler (I was excitedly, already mulling over the double figures).
3.07 – Third chance for Ascot and first ball on the race track behind the away goal.
3.09 – Two Yeates chances; one saved, the next missed the target.
3.12 – It was getting easy, probably too easy as Ascot only half-heartedly took aim when chances presented themselves. Jonny Denton shoots wide, Rob Saunders shoots over (to maintain a rate of one goal every nine minutes, by now we were behind schedule).
3.19 – The visitors’ first opportunity comes, and goes, as a free kick sails way over the bar.
3.22 – Another unmarked Ascot corner is headed over.
3.24 – First of two poor goalkeeping kicks. Chris Grace hoofs up field, losing possession. Abingdon’s Gavin Jones hits the ball straight back and over the goal.
3.34 – GOAL 2-0: Butler hoofs up field, losing possession. The Ascot attack finds Roche free in the middle and he side foots his second.
3.35 – GOLD 3-0: Roche taps in after a swift and superb passing move by Darrell McLean and Andrew Dean.
3.40 – After winning the ball from a hesitant Jones, Denton’s shot is deflected wide. Moments later Jones heads tamely at the Grace.
3.41 – Saunders shoots over.
At half time – over another brew – replaying the action in my mind, the Abbots looked at best, resigned to defeat; the Yellamen seemed confident to the point of nonchalance yet, here they were, three goals to the good (or way behind schedule as my head was calling it).
Just last week I heard Luther (yes Watford fans are on first-name terms with this footballing God) recount how Graham Taylor hadn’t let them sit down during the interval, when four-up to Sunderland. He didn’t want the team to relax. He wanted the energy and hunger to continue; he wanted the Black Cats to be finished off ruthlessly. Regardless of the amount of missed chances in the first period, as Ascot emerged once more, this was all I could think of…
3.59 – The Abingdon team look like their wondering what’s for dinner.
4.00 – Ascot kick off
4.02 – GOAL 4-0: Again Butler had no chance. Roche prevents the ball going out for a goal kick and passes back to the support. McLean takes two steps and fires left-footed, low towards the far post (of the goal now nearest me). Though the announcer awarded McLean the goal; from my new vantage point it appeared to deflect in off centre back James Robins (Ascot are still some way behind schedule).
4.10 – GOAL 5-0: Roche collects a through ball, rounds the keeper and slots past the last defender (ditto).
4.11 – Butler can breathe again. Roche heads over before drifting offside when running clean through at him.
4.18 – Sub, Joe Grant breaks clear down the right but the chance comes to nothing. Butler once again breathes a sigh of relief.
4.20 – GOAL 6-0: We are clearly back on for the magic ten. Roche’s fifth comes direct from a keeper assist – Wing Commander Charles Reep would’ve been proud – from a Grace punt up field the ball bounced over the defence and Roche nipped round the back (fractionally behind target).
4.24 – GOAL 7-0: Roche is felled just in the box. The ref, probably feeling sorry for the visitors, only awards a free kick which – “on the whistle” – Saunders duly fires straight in (think we might be on course now, he mutters to himself wistfully)
4.34 – GOAL 8-0: Roche – making hay whilst the sun shines – grabs his sixth and wheels off to celebrate. His defence have other ideas; the urgency is now clear. “GET THE BALL” screams Yeates.
4.37 – Abingdon have their first real shot on target and Grace collects it easily. I’d like to feel sorry for the visitors but, we are so close to a red letter day that I push their needs to the back on my mind.
4.38 – Abingdon’s first corner comes to nothing.
4.40 – GOAL 9-0: McLean taps in what the announcer is still insisting is his brace (with minutes to go any concern for 1:9 schedules has been pushed back to a place next to my thoughts for the visitors feelings)
4.45 – GOAL 10-0: Almost fittingly, Captain Dave Hancock completes the mission – OUR mission – with seconds to spare. The relief is palpable for all in the home corner; as the ref can blow up and be damned now – as if he’d been waiting for the tenth too – he does.
“the first, the last, their everything”
Later as “Into The Blue” sang from the radio, my thoughts were still of a Taylor-esque halftime team talk. In the second half Ascot had been brutal. They were still third but, now the gap to the leaders was just four points and, thanks to today, they now have the a massively superior goal difference. Being the form team, Ascot shouldn’t even fear having to play both the top two (at home) in the run-in. That is where they will potentially overhaul them both.
Today wasn’t the prettiest of games – on reflection I’m still convinced we could have seen six scored way before the interval – but whatever happens now, Ascot United might just do it. They will also live long in my memory. Their Racecourse Ground has wonderful facilities and the friendly staff were fantastic. The truly beautiful setting, in such glorious weather, the tea served in china (the serve espressos too in case you’re of that ilk) and, the ten goals. Really they should produce commemorative t-shirts. Of course it won’t always be that way but at least I was there. And if my wife ever gets her way, this could soon be our local team… things could be worse.