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Chip and Pin

For some reason, I go to senior cup games even when I know I shouldn’t.

After Chips 3 Fries 4, I’m still asking myself that question.

To be honest, this should have been the most embarrassing result in the AFCW era. In the past, our minor cup exits have been down to scratch teams, half of whom I suspect didn’t even know what colour we were playing in.

This however was a team who you could legitimately put out in a Conference game. From memory, it was Brown, Hatton, Blanchett, Ryan Jackson, Derek Duncan, Poole, Wellard, Hendry, Godfrey, DK and JM. A side you would expect to win comfortably against Grays, let alone a Ryman One outfit.

Yes, I know that the idea was to give them a bit of match practice after Saturday. I know that we weren’t going at even 50% of what we could do. And I know that had we gone out, it would have been as much a matter of piss-taking by ourselves along with a few blushes.

But really, especially in defence, some of it was outright painful to watch.

What it does prove is that we need to take a serious look at our back line, even for sheer strength in depth. When I saw Ben Judge walking out to his car with an hour to go (before the conspiracy theorists start – he had flu and was sent home), it was going to be one of those sorts of nights. Poor Sam Hatton just cannot play centre back at all, which at least gives the people who like slagging him off another reason to have a pop at him.

Gap wise, this was the equivalent of Spurz travelling down to Torquay and getting a result courtesy of Jermaine Defoe in the 93rd minute. It’s that kind of strange performance that county cups always provide, we just weren’t in gear for most of it.

To give you some idea of how through-the-motions it was. Any tackle or move that would have injured a player was half heartedly performed – if at all. When we did put some (relative) effort in the last 20 minutes, we forced their goalie to make about 3/4 good saves as a result. There were times when Nathan Elder (who came on in the second half) put a little more into his now-trademark powering runs and the Chipstead defence shat themselves.

But the main difference seemed to come from the two benches. The Chipstead bench were all stood up, urging their team onwards, getting stuck in. Ours looked like they were discussing where to get the best deal on sterling (Zimbabwe, one presumes). Bar the odd call from TB to “use your heads” and “get into the box”, which seemed a little bit too optimistic…

Once we got to 3-2, it was inevitable that we were going to pull back to 3-3. OK, Chipstead kept trying to exploit what we laughably called our back line, but you could tell they were hanging on for most of it. Had we done it from the off, I would have been talking about a 7-0 win right now.

There was one problem of course with this equaliser right at the death : the very fact that it meant 30 minutes of extra time. I don’t think I’ve seen so many of our fans half-heartedly cheer a game-tying goal right at the death. Maybe it was because we didn’t entirely care tonight ourselves? Don’t get me wrong, I always love winning games, and we really did leap about when it was 4-3. Then again, that was as much down to the fact we could go home after that.

But you felt you could have just gone down the training ground and watched something similar for nowt.

Anyway, seems like we’re going to play Godalming. Yes, the venue of the notorious Mr Fish game. Be there, whenever it is. Fish himself surely won’t be…

Plus points: We won. Actually quite entertaining towards the end. Return of Luke Moore to action. Glenn “Tempo” Poole looking like he gave a shit.

Minus points: £8 for 70 minutes worth of a training session. Trying a radical new formation without an actual defence.

The referee’s a…: Oh come on, he could have disallowed our fourth goal and I’d still be making my way home at time of writing.

Them: Fair play to them, they wanted to win and probably should have done. I’ve almost forgiven them for beating us in the first home competitive fixture of the AFCW era. I said “almost”…

Their little winger was quite speedy and caused us problems. A couple of years ago, he might have been an AFCW player by the end of the night (after all, we signed Jon Main after he scored twice against us for Tonbridge that evening). Maybe if we get our reserves sorted out to a decent level we would do that. Oh, and their goalkeeper looked like the bass player for an indie band.

I’ll say a little bit more later about visiting Chipstead, but suffice to say, I still hate country roads as much as I ever did…

Point to ponder: Is there much point in playing such a strong side for these types of contests in future? Although we’ve gone through a lot of why we shouldn’t already, here’s another thought : our fringe players have been denied valuable playing time. OK, they get the chance to humiliate prove themselves at Harrow next Thursday, but if we win the SSC nobody is really going to get excited. Especially if the BSP playoffs are well within our radar.

Again, I hope that this will be the last season whereby our fringe players don’t get decent competitive action on a regular basis. I certainly didn’t like it when Glenn Poole went off to get some strapping tonight…

Truth is stranger than fiction: (1) Nice burgers at their permanently built BBQ pit. Cheap enough, too (£2.50). Believe they get a fair amount of trade with kids football finals around there, which proves that no matter how big or small you are, a bit of ingenuity and knowhow goes a long way (2) The reaction when it went 3-3. Aren’t we all supposed to be, you know, happy? (3) There was no training tonight, and at least four players purely turned up to get treated by Mike Rayner. Including one D Duncan. To be fair to him, he did have a decent game, so at least he can perform in Ryman Div One.

Anything else? Yes. I think I’ve worked out why I go to county cup games – it’s the nostalgia trips. Hard to think that a mere 6/7 years ago, we were playing Chipstead in a competitive league fixture. People may think us being a Conference side these days is an eye-opener. Actually, I would say us playing at that level was more noteworthy.

Of course, we never actually played a league fixture there. Although the official capacity is 3000, it wouldn’t have coped with the away crowds we were taking back then. But this was definitely a CCL reunion, even if neither side is in the CCL these days.

There’s two sides to that coin. Even now, some people would secretly like us to be back in the CCL, and for a fleeting moment you can see why. It was relaxing, there was no hint whatsoever of us getting ripped off (although I think £8 for a senior cup tie is too much, I don’t begrudge Chipstead in the way I do for T&M), and they really seemed to welcome us being there. To this day, I felt the CCL clubs were as well organised (if not more so) than many of the clubs higher up the pyramid. And certainly without the attitude of some Ryman outfits…

But it proves as a reminder why we should never be at that level ever again. Imagine what our football watching would have been like if we hadn’t got it together PDQ and got ourselves going upwards. Would Chipstead and other such places have had such a place in our hearts if we’d spent 4, maybe 5 seasons down there? Christ, I remember people getting pissed off halfway during the second CCL season, when the novelty was quickly wearing off.

It’s ironic that this season, we would have visited more old haunts than we have done since we left them behind originally. We’ve had Ash, now Chipstead, and now we’re off to Godalming in the semi final. On Thursday week, it’s back to Harrow (one wonders if the slaggish-yet-fit barmaids will be there pulling a creamy head. One only hopes so) and a reminder of the Ryman Prem days. And games against Boreham Wood have reminded us all too painfully of what watching the games was really like back then.

Ask yourself this : next time we have a free Saturday, will you really make a special journey to a CCL club?

In the words of Kenneth Auchincloss, it is one thing to learn about the past, it is another to wallow in it. If you want to know why it’s good to go back to these venues, it’s because we’re at the right level today…

So, was it worth it? *clenches teeth*

In a nutshell: Back to the future.