|Pre-season programme - |
five games in one
One thing about the Olympics that hasn’t been widely publicised - and I should know since I’ve written every conceivable thing about the impending sport fest over the last month - is that regular football isn’t allowed in the Capital at the moment.
In the same way as Burger King, Pepsi and Virgin Airlines are currently outlawed because they’re not official sponsors, any football played within London that is not sanctioned by the IOC is likely to be met with a most severe punishment - like being made to work for G4S or going out on a candlelit dinner date with Wenlock and Mandeville. Mind you, the transport can be bad enough without football as well.
So the third weekend of my pre-season frolics forced me to explore beyond the M25. The train pulled out of clean and clinical St Pancras and shot inexorably northwards through the underground tunnels that lie under foot in north London. Keeping the majestic sweep of the Wembley arch to our left, we passed sprawling leisure complexes and their car parks, homes of every size and description, beautiful parkland and a PC World in Brent Cross.
The train outsprinted motorists on the M1 making an early Olympics escape and then raced through the ‘Hollywood of Hertfordshire’ (i’ve just made that up) Borehamwood and Elstree, and the leafy middle class bubble of Radlett. Just ten minutes out of London’s infernal rush, we were in immaculate countryside, the enormous Norman nave of St Albans Cathedral getting nearer and nearer from the horizon.
I knew I had chosen my action well. The parts of St Albans I saw were lovely, with the Clarence Park ground set in a very pleasant, erm, park and just a short step from the station. I knew the Southern Premier League club’s little ground was hidden somewhere in this park, but wasn’t entirely sure where.
I first came across a busy children’s playground. This was not the ground. Then there was a group of Eastern European lads having a BBQ. This wasn’t the ground either. Then I found a nice cricket ground and their old wooden pavilion. This was bloody gorgeous BUT IT WASN’T THE GROUND.
Then I peered over a small privet hedge and found the ground. I later discovered there was a shortcut which would have taken me from train to terrace steps in about three minutes. You live and learn.
On Saturdays when I’m not watching Boston United, it’s very rare I’m not attending a random game and, believe me, there have been some absolute rotters with about as much entertainment as a rainy afternoon in Milton Keynes. As the intelligent ones among you will already have deduced from the title, I felt pretty chuffed with my choice for once.
Barnet - old rivals of Boston’s from back in the day who went massively up in my estimation when they sent Lincoln City down in 2011 - were an irresistible force in this match and St Albans an object only too happy to step aside and wave them cheerily on their way.
On a bowling green surface, Barnet swarmed all over their opponents. Their wingers and strikers were very nimble, their passing sharp and sensible, and their chance conversion just about 100 per cent. Sure, there are three divisions between the sides and this was St Albans’ first pre-season outing, but Barnet look a team determined not to be once again struggling against relegation this time.
The referee clearly had a date to keep and we started three minutes early, meaning by two past three the game was wrapped up. The St Albans wing backs were being torn a new one and goals from Mark Byrne and Mauro Vilhete (an excellent top corner finish) had the smattering of travelling fans applauding.
With incredible intensity for this stage of the season, Barnet didn’t show any mercy and it was soon three, four, five and then six just before the break. Every goal was well-crafted and clinically finished. The bloke on the tannoy grew more and more embarrassed as the score grew to proportions of eight, nine and ten to one.
For the record, the scorers were Byrne, Vilhete, Ricky Holmes, Jon Nurse (two), Ollie Lee, Andy Yiadom, Anthony Edgar (two) and Sakho Bakare. There was little atmosphere - this would have completely ruined the tranquility of the park on this nice summer’s afternoon - but a lone Barnet voice struck up with ‘No-one likes us’ after the eighth.
Twelve goals and a lovely afternoon out - St Albans was certainly the right choice. In fact, it was one of the most ridiculous games I’ve ever witnessed - a goal factory. I deserve a pat on the back.
Next Match: We’re only half-way through pre-season so plenty of friendly fun to come.