When you’re at a tough little ground in the middle of nowhere, in the depths of winter, on a pitch taken out of Ypres in WW1, your mettle and character is tested to the full. When you have a player sent off in the first half, when you have to make three subsitutions by half time, when you have a brand new goalie who probably didn’t even know this level of football existed this time a couple of days ago, when yet again you find yourself incapable of holding onto a sizeable lead, and when you’re only one goal to the good against a team who twigged that putting it in high rattles you to the bone, you’re suppose to eventually succumb and wonder yet again what you’re thrown away.
After Stones 1 Dave Clarke Five 2, thank god we forgot to read the script.
For once, I think I’ll better put things in context with the game’s description. We got a penalty after about a minute, when they handballed it. We scored thanks to Mark DeB. Then we scored again with Finn’s bullet-like header and we thought it would be a nice easy game for once. Then we realised we watch AFCW and needless to say they started coming back, testing us in the air and Lee Butcher finding out that referees don’t give keepers protection at this level. 2-1, and many an anus was twittering.
Then Webb got fouled on the edge of the box and nothing was given, so decided to take matters into his own hands a few minutes later by clattering into somebody. With helpful assistance from the Maidstone manager running onto the pitch, Webb got sent off on about 25 minutes. So, we faced the rest of the game with 10 men, a hostile ref, only one goal ahead and our defence looking as good as Hillary Clinton’s campaign in Iowa. With plenty of “hurry up and blow the fucking whistle for half time you stupid cunt” type comments, we scraped through fearing the worse for the next 45 minutes.
Oh, and all this with Quinn and Finn off before the half hour mark as well. Which became even worse when DeB was subbed at HT and the not-very-fit Main put on in his place. Valium sales went through the roof.
When they got a corner, needless to say flung in at a rate of knots, we all rolled our eyes and expected the inevitable. Except for some reason, it didn’t materialise. Where was the kitchen sink? Shouldn’t we have been the ones on the backfoot for the whole game? I think we might have even saw, you know, attacking from ourselves. In fact, quite a bit of attacking. They had a man sent off for a second booking (making his debut as well, dick) and I don’t know if this is BBB or not, but we really were the team more likely to score after that.
On paper, we did the same thing as we did against Hendon last week. But today we looked a bit more assured. I don’t know whether the obvious confidence Lee Butcher showed in the second half shone through in our defence or not, but we saw character. Maybe Webb’s sending off galvanised us? I don’t know what TB said at half time, but that might have been the most important team talk this season so far, and without us realising it.
Why? Because had we drawn this, it would have been the proverbial nail in the mahogany coffin. We go 2-0 and can’t hold onto the lead – not the sign of a promotion gaining outfit. But to survive that adversity, then to come out and build on it so we look like the more likely next goalscorer is something else.
Dare to dream? I decided to let the traffic die down afterwards and spend a good 20 minutes in the bar catching the results. When it was discovered that Chelmsford drew 1-1 at home to Hastings, the cheer was one thing. But the buzz afterwards, if only fleeting, was something else. Dare we dream? Dare we believe? When you consider that Staines beat Ramsgutter and the rest didn’t win either, maybe you get a twinge that perhaps it could happen. Dare we believe that we win our three games in hands that puts us just two points behind the champions-elect?
Let’s dampen the optimism right here and now. To get those three wins is a MASSIVE ask. And that’s just to remain one win behind Chelmsford. They still have the points on the board, we haven’t, and right now they’re still clear favourites. Also, if our players are getting injured, that just makes the task even more harder. The next few league games will tell us whether we can catch Chelmsford or whether it’s the inevitable heartbreak in the playoffs for the third year in a row.
Is there pressure on us? Of course, always was and always will be. And if I’m being honest I don’t think we’ll catch up 9 points with our 3 games in hand. But ever so slightly, there’s now pressure on Chelmsford. Can they cope? It could be extingushed with Ashford taking points off us on Tuesday, but if we win, the dynamic of the RP changes. Hastings scored a last minute goal from the half way line. Fluke it may have been, and it might just turn out to be a blip than a turning point. But suddenly, just a tiny little something moved today.
Oh yeah, I forgot about Staines as well. We’ll deal with them later…
Actually, if things don’t pan out the way we hope, today did at least show that we can win ugly as TB said we’d have to. Last year, and even not many months ago, this would have been a scraped draw at best. While the Leyton/Borehamwood games seem like a distant memory now, today could have been Tonbridge and then some. Think about it – away in Kent, on paper should win, go 2-0 up, goalkeeper either gets injured or goes into mental breakdown, concede one goal then concede another and then just about hang on.
If truth be told, this is still just one game from now until the end of April. We won’t win every game this season, I’ll warn you that now. We might even lose a couple. But today proved that just when you think this league looks settled….
Plus points: We won. Away. Jason Goodliffe. Steve Ferguson. Jon Main (even when he’s not fit he looks the best striker at the club). Overcoming the biggest adversity this season. Looking more like a team that might, just might, have “it”
Minus points: Injuries. Failing to kill the game off at 2-0. Webb’s dismissal.
The referee’s a………: I’ve lost the will to talk about officials now. I know life ain’t easy for them, and Webb did deserve his red, but surely he could have done something about their manager encroaching on the field of play? Do officials at this level really get intimidated by the size of our crowd? Serious point BTW – I know Turdey is an ex-ref himself, so surely the Ryman should at least be some sort of breeding ground for the next generation of ref. Where’s the Steven Cook type official that we got in the CCL?
Actually, while looking up about what Cook is up to, I came across this from the Times a few months ago. This bit caught my eye:
“Players would be able to take refereeing courses while playing, in much the same way they gain coaching badges. They would be given mentors and develop their officiating by handling academy games. They could then, if good enough, enter at Supply League level (nonleague football, just below the Conference) when they finish playing.”
Bold emphasis is mine. I ought to write a whole article on this sort of thing, but I’ll summarise. The Ryman League level is a lot more “professional” than people believe. It has at least one full time manager (TB), and while there are no out-and-out professionals it’s not exactly expenses and a cup of tea either. Players from this level can and do join the pro leagues, and not just League Two either. There is a fertile breeding ground for quite a few players who really could make it higher up. Don’t they deserve some better refereeing?
Turdey and co should really be pushing to make their league Supply League level. Clubs at this level – not just AFCW – deserve better officiating. The standard of many clubs in the RP is as good if not better than those in the Conf South, and it’s no coincidence that the best ref this season (FAT game v Chelmsford) was a Conf South official. Needless to say, I’m not going to hold my breath.
Them: Any team that has to play at that place deserves sympathy, especially one that isn’t theirs through choice. You forget they’re an ex-league club sometimes. I can’t remember the last time I went into a ground which was a former training pitch (since converted to a stadium because Sittingbourne went broke and couldn’t play at the nice looking greyhound track next door) in an industrial estate, with CCLesque terracing and a Travis Perkins behind it. The Garden Shed of England. Bit like Wealdstone, insofar as they need to get their new premises sorted ASAP otherwise they could slip back into oblivion. Their fans were all right as it goes, they hate Gillingham for some reason, but was it necessary for one old boy to say to our drummer that he would like to put a sharp knife through it?
Point to ponder: Good to see people noticing that JG was openly encouraging our new keeper before the game and again at HT. Doubtless helped with his confidence. Just how irreplacable is he? Certainly my Player of the Season even at this early stage. Incidentally, is Lee Butcher the first ever Spurz player to ever transfer directly to Wimbledon?
Truth is stranger than fiction: (1) Sittingbourne’s gaff. Those there today need no explanation. Those who weren’t probably wouldn’t get a suitable one. (2) Maidstone’s programme listing the entire ETU squad as our side playing today, including one S Gore in goal. Maybe that’s why we showed for the first time this season the steel we needed? (3) Still can’t used to a Spurz goalie playing for us. Mind you, the rate Paul Robinson is going, I think Lee Butcher will be starting at the Emirates next week. (4) When was the last Saturday when we had virtually every result go for us?
Anything else? I can’t remember the last time we had a player sent off in the TB era. Probably never. Come to think of it, our disciplinary record is quite good (pretty amazing when you consider the standard of refereeing generally in the Ryman) under him, and I’m referring to yellow cards. Maybe TB has an approach that doesn’t confront the officials that much? I certainly can’t imagine him doing what the Maidstone boss did today, ie run onto the field of play, and wouldn’t ever think he’ll be sent to the stand. And with players only missing through injury, it really does help our cause. On these lines, I was informed today of how DA approached one official and stated “you can’t referee the big games”. The rest was indeed history…
So, was it worth it? If we end up promoted, it will be days like this that took us there. So if you’re scrolling back in September 2008 with us having just beaten Bromley to go top of the Conf South, then yes.
In a nutshell: Character. A word often used but today almost under-used….