Game of Three Thirds

Pre-Season Friendly
Walton Casuals FC v Dorking Wanderers FC
Saturday, 28th June 2014, midday
The Xcel Leisure Centre
Entrance £free, Programme £none
Distance 9 miles, Attendance 18 (at best)
When a youth player stops you at the car park entrance and asks if you want your car washed, it tugs at your groundhopping heart-strings. Well, it should.
Naturally there should’ve been even more guilt tearing at my inner self, when politely responding “not today thanks” but; a) she’s so meticulous, my wife’s car rarely needs washing (my words obviously), b) black clouds were circling and forefathers counselled effortlessly against cleanliness before a storm, c) the list of OCD car cleaning requirements I have were too lengthy to explain in the short time available, d) focussing on anything but the imminent kick off would present emotional issues, or e) all of the above. Sometimes the answer really should be far simpler, with me it seldom is; besides I was completely distracted.
Whilst I’d much rather have been there too, all the football I had witnessed for the past month was via FIFA’s official media partners. Aside some truly glorious ninety minutes, the ears have been crammed with erudite team selections, unfamiliar climate predictions, trivial fitness worries, training schedules, product endorsements and endless tittle-tattle. I have had an earful, and belly, full of it. I didn’t want four days dissecting the “too wide” positioning of Mr Rooney, followed a further four where he’s become “too central”. I didn’t, and don’t, even want to hear his name in isolation; IT IS A TEAM GAME.
I’d like to have digested the far more useful knowledge and, thanks to the fortunes and endeavours of a lucky few – both Mike Parkin and intrepid Andy Smith have made me more than little envious – amongst the tosh, some real stories have gratefully emerged from the favelas. Though not nearly enough. And aside a couple of games, the football has been incredible but, it is still on the telly…
Televised sport (or music for that matter) never exceeds the sensation of its LIVE brethren. It can’t. Whatever is boasted about HD and its ilk, it will never replace the sights and sounds off, the smells of the food stalls and local cigarette smoke; the sweat and humidity in the air; the ambience. No matter how good the entertainment, a screen enhanced with the banality of informed comments – by those either totally unqualified or, totally incapable of coaching the national sides on show – comes close to leaving me cold. Watching it all, I’d just been getting itchy feet for the real thing. I needed a change; I needed to get out.
140628 psf Walton Casuals v Dorking Wanderers (53)bWith all the clubs in South West London and North Surrey, Walton-upon-Thames is probably just big enough to support one good side; instead it has two, both with their merits. Each has a proud history, their own grounds and clear aspirations for the future. Whilst Walton & Hersham FC is situated in the well-healed part of town, Walton Casuals FC enjoy a riverside birth, beside a modern sports centre whose affordable quality facilities are expanding with demand.
140628 psf Walton Casuals v Dorking Wanderers (3)bIn contrast, for the past few years Elmbridge Council have [insert something about LEGACY here] been endeavouring to find a solution to the less adequate facilities of their two football clubs and Walton Athletics Club (all three independent of council and Xcel control). They have proposed a new “shared” stadium – a “Sports Hub”, whatever that means – on the land behind Casuals’ Riverside Stadium, to the west of the Xcel but agreement between the parties cannot as yet be reached, with all somewhat predictably fearing the loss of their identities. Where this ends is anyone’s guess but for now, Casuals supplement their ground with the 3G surface at the Xcel, whilst Stompond Lane hosts school sports presumably to supplement their income.
Adding to Casuals endearing features (before one asks, no, I was never one “back in the day”, as the groovy kids say), this season they decided to host one of the earliest pre-season friendlies about. Before we acknowledge the new ground ticking excitement, to say I was grateful that a club so local should do so is an understatement; just being out the house again…
Though – at the time of writing – its still not visible on Google earth, across the car park from the main sports centre, a full size 3G football pitch has been recently laid. Flanked on the other three sides by fauna and common land, it has plush changing rooms and when we arrived – like most days – was crawling with youth teams enjoying coaching sessions. Separated by the children, to the pitch sides both Casuals and their visitors Wanderers were endeavouring to regain some of the full match composure that had worn off during the brief close season.
140628 psf Walton Casuals v Dorking Wanderers (19)bThough both sides were bolstered by trialists, the far more numerous Casuals appeared to also have an abundance of very young players trying their luck for the coming campaign. In the opening exchanges both that youth and the lack of understanding – common among new teammates – was a telling factor.
140628 psf Walton Casuals v Dorking Wanderers (20)Having no programme was already making it tough going for us too but the lack of team sheets only added to the confusion, probably for both the handful of supporters, the coaches and the new players. Within two minutes of kicking off, Walton were already a goal down. The swift passing move down the left, cut open the rearguard, and afforded Dorking’s impressive number seven (the first of two “7”s that played) a shot from outside the box. Momentarily the keeper, Luke Badiali, had it covered but once a harsh deflection swept the ball further right, he had no chance.
Moments later Badiali saved well before his opposite number was forced into action twice, the first from Andre Scarlett then a good effort from Joshua Cove. With honours fairly even in the shots-on table, it was already clear the main focus of this game was not the final result but, fighting off the holiday excesses.
“Don’t mark a man; mark an area!” yelled Mark Hams at his defensive charges, before imploring others to “Get bodies forward!” Though always just out of clear view of Hams’ clipboard (yes, I did try to get a photo) 140628 psf Walton Casuals v Dorking Wanderers (24)bperched by his subs I was given a clear insight into the difficulties such a first game can bring. “Keep talking… …Be hard to break down… …Too easy!” Naturally not wanting to dish out cards at this stage of the season, on the pitch the ref was also making slow progress getting his wishes over. Whilst other got ignored out of hand, once the visiting number 9 began debating his every move, the repost was swift; halting the game to come over all poor-man’s Mr Chips “My advice to you is keep your opinions to yourself.”
Though the ball kept moving, the real chances became fewer as mistakes increased. The initial dominance of Dorking had waned, Casuals were finding their feet and, I boldly went for a stroll round to the exposed side of the pitch as the heavens began to open.
Before the full downpour, Casuals were level. Dorking’s keeper rushed out and kicked badly and Josh Cove eventually found space to fire home, giving both sides more to discuss in their interval on-pitch huddles after just thirty minutes of play. Having brushed off my uncertainty of the short half, as Dorking kicked off for the second – facing an almost entirely new Casuals’ side – it was clear they hadn’t.

140628 psf Walton Casuals v Dorking Wanderers (36)b140628 psf Walton Casuals v Dorking Wanderers (25)b140628 psf Walton Casuals v Dorking Wanderers (28)b

As the ref stopped the game for an earring to be removed from one such home sub, the visiting coaches were curiously double-checking the format of the game with the nearest linesman. Trying to accommodate this new three half game plan, yet still looking perplexed visiting coach Marc White responded “OK, tell us when it’s fifteen… we didn’t know.” If this wasn’t confusing enough; as a play continued yells passed around the pitch, the loudest of which was “Roll on me!”
140628 psf Walton Casuals v Dorking Wanderers (43)bGlancing about, no-one was rolling; no-one was even sizing such a move up. Pulled from my thoughts, suddenly the ball went out of play and White yelled “EVERYONE OFF…” totting up those coming on “Er… except two” pointing hastily at his number 7 and a member of the defence. The massive change of personnel (including a second incoming number 7) clearly worked and soon Wanderers were ahead again as the initial (and now very tired looking) number 7 dipped between two defenders and slotted confidently home.
Soon Dorking’s number 9 had a shot saved, and their 15’s far post header also drew a fine stop from Badiali. Off the pitch their teammates subbed off were changing and going home, rather than stand about in the elements. Those labouring on the pitch began to ask questions of the coaches… “They can’t stay in this weather” came the response. Why not, I wondered, we were. “That’s why we’re in the Sussex County League…” came a jovial continuation before adding to his assistant “You realise we might have to play if there’s an emergency”.
As if most players were thinking of better places to be, with the rain pouring down, both sides eased off before the final formal stoppage. Shots and passes went lazily wayward – one even found the road – and White began haranguing the main official for his lack of movement after watching him being struck by the ball. None of it was too serious but one had to wonder why, given the nature of this game, it was necessary at all.
For the third period Casuals threw on the bulk of their youngsters and the ref made a point of running extremely close by White’s gaze, much too both their amusement. The game soon drifted from nonchalance into gun-ho territory and Walton equalised in the third 27th minute, as Mustapha (no idea which one of the brothers) rifled a shot to the top corner. In response Dorking’s number 7 (the first one) struck the post and their 14 had an even better effort saved.
140628 psf Walton Casuals v Dorking Wanderers (56)bChatting to a couple of other hoppers, it was fairly clear this game meant little to anyone. Granted it was on a “new pitch” – the same one Casuals train on every Thursday – but it was also a complete muddle to the untrained eye. The format of three periods was at best puzzling, the skill and fitness levels expectedly haphazard and though all were evidently better players than I, at times the work rate of somewhat questionable. There were bikes and kitbags leaning against perimeter fences, and players wearing odd kits changing pitchside before rushing home to avoid the downpour. I’d guess for all but the coaches, it was little more than a training session. It was quite literally EVERYTHING that the World Cup wasn’t.
There were no cameras, media or anthems; the hyperbole of former pros was thankfully absent. This was just football, possibly as it should be; two managers dusting off the cobwebs to assess their options for the coming campaign. It was also mercifully live. For those present, it was clearly what we all needed.
Final score: Walton Casuals 2-2 Dorking Wanderers
140628 psf Walton Casuals v Dorking Wanderers (5)   140628 psf Walton Casuals v Dorking Wanderers (4)   140628 psf Walton Casuals v Dorking Wanderers (52)

140628 psf Walton Casuals v Dorking Wanderers (63)b

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