Sunday, 30 September 2012

Fulham 1 Manchester City 2

Without question, this was one of the most attractive fixtures I’ll find myself at this season - the Champions of England in West London, playing a resurgent Fulham at Craven Cottage, the ground on the banks of the Thames resplendent in the late September sunshine.

Very pretty it all was in setting, but this match was as close to a siege as you will find in the game of football. And it came with all the associated close-quarters scrapping and combat. 

City’s three-pronged attack of Tevez, Aguero and Silva buzzed around the penalty area like bees would a honey pot. Tevez, all bluster and unnecessary petulance, was undoubtedly Queen Bee.

The game was a recurring vision. Cute little passes backwards and forwards along the periphery of the area, the ball whisked out to one flank, then a quickstep change and it was back over on the other side, the white-shirted Fulham players trying gamely to stem the flow and survive until they could quell the onslaught with another punt upfield. 

The only surprise about this match was that it took City 87 minutes to hit the front. Of course, to keep plugging away for so long against such spirited resistance is the hallmark of Champions, but given their three-quarter dominance of possession and practical encampment in the Fulham half, this should have been a much more comfortable result.

But because the knockout blow came so late, it made it all the more agonising for plucky Fulham, whom it seemed at times were being slow cooked while still alive. No pushovers this season, the hosts had taken an early lead from the penalty spot and fooled us all into thinking they might gain an unlikely point until Edin Dzeko scored a well-taken winner. 

Huw had sorted excellent seats for this encounter, just four or five rows back from the pitch behind the goal in the Hammersmith End. We were beneath the players and it was nice to watch a top game where you were up close and personal rather than watching a group of specks run around from the Gods. 

The atmosphere in the home section was excellent throughout, with the crowd willing their team to hold out against the blue tide. The City fans were subdued - or were at least drowned out - until late in the second half. 

In glorious sunshine, the game started at frenetic pace, and in just the ninth minute came the first moment of controversy. Mark Halsey had been centre of attention in the Liverpool vs Manchester United match last Sunday and hopes of a quiet afternoon were dashed when Zabaleta blocked off John Arne Riise’s run into the area.   

Some 120 yards from the incident, we were in no position to make judgement and, indeed, it took a few seconds for the people at our end of the ground to realise a penalty had been awarded. Mladen Petric gave Joe Hart no chance and the contest was ignited.

The remainder of the half followed an identical pattern. City would progress forward, work the ball between their triumvirate of silky Latin players - sometimes aided by Yaya Toure - before Fulham would throw a body in the way or momentarily snatch the ball back. This happened over and over and over again until a City equaliser was inevitable.

There had been hairy moments - the excellent Hangeland hacked the ball off the line, while Mark Schwarzer managed to smother the ball on the line following one of many goalmouth scrambles. Tevez had an afternoon to forget - his work-rate is ever admirable but he didn’t instigate a great deal.

He fell clumsily when tugged back by Riise in the box and gesticulated wildly from the deck, veins in his neck throbbing, expression disbelieving and hands imploring the referee to give a penalty. Halsey sought no further controversy. 

The minutes slipped by until the respite of half-time, but a City leveller was as inevitable as the sunset. Of course, Tevez was involved, feeding the ball in for Silva to nudge goalwards. Schwarzer repelled, but Aguero, right in front of our position, had an easy finish at the back post. 

The second-half was, if anything, even more one directional. Now attacking away from us, we saw little of the action as City laid siege once again. Hart, who was warmly received by the home crowd, must have seen the ball a mere five or six times. 

And yet City’s heavy artillery was misfiring. Their fans grew unsettled and optimism in the home support grew. You would glance at the scoreboard at every lull in the attack and see another ten minutes had slipped by. 

Roberto Mancini, acutely aware that his confident side of last season would have the game secured by now, gambled and threw on first Mario Balotelli and then Dzeko. 

While the Italian, who replaced a by now infuriated Tevez, was hopeless, Dzeko’s introduction was unfortunately inspired. Clichy crossed, Riise tried in vain to clear and with impeccable composure, Dzeko swivelled and found the top corner through a  phalanx of bodies. 

There was an audible groan of resignation. The thing everybody had expected to happen had happened. There was no time to counter-attack and respond. 

Mark of champions? Yes. 

Next match: From the salubrious surroundings of Fulham to Tadcaster Albion, where Boston United continue on the FA Cup trail next Saturday. 

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Queens Park Rangers 2 Reading 3

Another week, another London ground. I’m skittling them down like ten pins now. Not a complimentary ticket this time but a ruddy reasonably priced one for the Capital Carling Rumbelows Milk Cup third round match between QPR and Reading at Loftus Road.

It turns out this ground is the closest to my current place of residence and was a breeze to get to. The ticket prices had been appropriately lowered for this one and the £15 I paid was obviously a lot better than the £60+ they would normally charge. 

Loftus Road is certainly a very compact venue and, to be honest, not very comfortable at all. I’m above average height at 6’ 4” but the legroom was ridiculously tight for anyone north of a midget. As I walked up the steps in the South Africa Road stand to my seat, the two gents either side said: ‘This is going to be a tight squeeze.’

I soon discovered what they meant, with my shins jammed against the seat in front and knees jabbing into the unfortunate chap sat in it. I was in genuine pain by the half-hour mark, a kind of extreme pins and needles, and thankfully it was an end-to-end match with plenty of opportunities to get up and stretch my legs. 

It didn’t help that I’d spent the previous day jogging, cycling, swimming and hauling weights as part of a press trip to the Football Association’s shiny new St George’s Park training facility, and also that I hadn’t done any kind of stretching or warm-down as you’re meant to. My bad. 

I alluded to an exciting game and that’s precisely what it was, with the rarity of two Premier League teams who genuinely wanted to advance in the competition. There were two full-strength sides and a very good atmosphere, with pockets of home fans making noise on three sides of the ground. 

After 15 minutes, I was mentally congratulating myself on my choice of evening entertainment as both sides scored. QPR struck first in this ‘Battle of the Hoops’ (as the PA announcer tried to dress up a match between the bottom two sides in the top flight) when Junior Hoilett left four defenders in his slipstream with a direct run before applying a cool finish. 

The celebratory music had barely faded, though, when former Ranger Kaspars Gorkiss was left loose in the box to nod in a quick equaliser. Gorkiss didn’t celebrate in respect to his old club and this was appreciated by the home fans, who clearly still regard him with affection. 

Disappointingly considering the bright opening, the game then sailed into the doldrums, with the infuriatingly indifferent play of Djibril Cisse emerging as the main talking point. Mark Hughes had set up his side so Cisse was the lone frontman and his isolation wasn’t helped by his own lackadaisical attitude to finding space in the penalty area. Most of the evening’s anguished shouts from the home fans were aimed at his flamboyant head. 

Half time was a chance to get the circulation flowing again and also saw some unique on-pitch entertainment. Three ‘lucky’ fans took part in a challenge which required them to sprint to the centre circle, place their forehead on the top of a pole, spin round it ten times, run back without falling over from the dizziness and then score from the edge of the box. It was hilarious, Total Wipeout-style action that had the crowd in hysterics. 

The game sprung to life after the break and Cisse achieved magnificent redemption. It looked as though the clearest sight of goal had been closed down through his own unwillingness to pass, but Cisse spun and blasted a screamer into the top corner from 20 yards. It perfectly summed him up - 90 per cent apathy, ten per cent genius. 

At this point, QPR looked good for a place in the fourth round and I said to the chap next to me - ‘Let’s hope they hang on to the lead this time.’ Precisely a minute later, Nicky Shorey curled a lovely free-kick in off the underside of the bar and we were back to square one. The bloke sighed loudly. 

Hughes introduced Bobby Zamora as a signal of intent but it was Reading who seized the game. Jay Tabb muscled his way into the box on the left-hand side, squared for Noel Hunt to move the ball across goal and Pavel Pogrebnyak backheeled the winner. A Russian flag was raised in the away end. 

QPR had nothing left and slipped meekly to defeat, though Reading tried to help them when Pogrebnyak saw his late penalty saved by Julio Cesar. 

As the home fans melted into the increasingly chilly London air, all the talk was about how pivotal Monday night’s match with West Ham (or the ‘Battle of the Central Line’ as it’ll probably be called) is now. Both for Hughes and for their whole season.

Next Match: Tasty one - Fulham v Manchester City on Saturday at Craven Cottage (third visit) 

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Tottenham Hotspur 0 Lazio 0

An unexpected Brucey Bonus match courtesy of a very generous donation from *Europa League sponsor* that came through the office on Wednesday. The scene unfolded something like this:

Friendly Mail mailman doing daily rounds drops envelope on Deputy Editor’s desk. Deputy Editor opens envelope and produces four complimentary tickets from *Europa League sponsor* for Thursday night match at White Hart Lane. 

Deputy Editor (after a moment’s deliberation, fiddling with tickets in hands): Adam, what are you doing on Thursday night?
Shergold (having already seen tickets but with deadpan delivery): I’m going to White Hart Lane with you.
Deputy Editor (slightly taken aback): Erm...ah...well...oh right I see! So you’d like a ticket then?

So, I’d like to thank *Europa League sponsor* for the gift of going to Thursday night’s “Gazza Derby”. Of course, this is the minor “Gazza Derby” - the proper one was Boston United (glimpses of old genius but generally bored, unhealthily obsessed with fitness/Bran Flakes) against Kettering Town (disastrously short-lived management spell, bad alcohol problems) on Saturday, but I can’t be too fussy.

We had excellent seats, right above the Lazio fans, who were the main talking point of the evening given the paucity of actual goalscoring opportunities/excitement that seems to explain why fans are turned so easily off the Europa League. 

As those who stuck it out on ITV4 already know, the “Gazza Derby” was a bore draw, but it was still a very enjoyable experience to visit White Hart Lane for the first time, especially when it’s unexpected. 

It is a fine venue and I was struck by how tight and compact the stadium is, meaning the fans can almost feel the breath of the players as they gallop by. I imagine it is also very atmospheric when full and Tottenham are doing slightly better than they are this season. 

The best opportunity for the hosts - whose perma-crouching, Blackberry bashing, Burberry trench wearing manager Andre Villas-Boas has vowed to take this competition seriously - came when Clint Dempsey (the striker who takes the number two shirt) had a header disallowed for a very dubious offside. 

Lazio, who had come for a point, struck the crossbar late in the first half through Gonzalez but were generally content to hassle and harry and limit Tottenham’s touches on the ball, something they did with great success.

And Spurs were just unable to break through the Roman legions. Aaron Lennon looked lively on the right and Sandro likewise through the centre, but there was no polished final ball and absolutely nothing from set-pieces to the extent that Dan, my Spurs-supporting colleague, audibly complained every time they won a corner or a free-kick. 

So the main entertainment was the 3,000 immaculately choreographed, bouncing, wildly gesticulating, wolf whistling, scarf twirling Italians down below. They weren’t messing around in getting behind their team and sung throughout with heart and passion. 

There was loud appreciation for Gazza from both sets of fans, though the Lazio ones seemed to have coined a rather comical way of honouring him by pumping their arm and shouting: “Paul Gascoigne ole ole ole.” It was all kinds of good. 

But Friday’s headlines were about allegations of monkey chants directed at Jermain Defoe and Lennon and I hate to admit that a minority were making the ugly noises. It was not the “hundreds” mentioned by the papers, but maybe a pocket of 20 or 30 down at the front when Defoe were careering into the sponsor boards early in the second-half and later when Lennon came over to take a corner. 

There were also Palestinian and German flags being waved and quite a few straight arm salutes, though I believe the police did caution some supporters against this at various points during the evening. 

The attention on these incidents was inevitably more intense for the lack of action on the field and I believe UEFA are to look into the claims. I can honestly say it’s the first time I’ve encountered racist abuse at any football match and it certainly wasn’t pleasant. 

Still, at least I didn’t pay to hear it...

Next Match: Hopefully a midweek League Cup tie, if not it’s Fulham v Manchester City on Saturday.


Sunday, 16 September 2012

AFC Hornchurch 1 Dorchester Town 0

When Boston United were league-surfing between the Football League Two, the Conference North and the Liga Unibondo (as we called it, sounds better then Unibond League), it seemed every weekend gave you the opportunity to visit somewhere new. 

But now we’ve been static for three seasons, you look over the list of opponents and realise you’ve visited them all before. So since moving to London, I’ve made it my mission to work through the Conference North’s mirror league in the South, which is a bizarre geographical expanse from Truro in the west to Dover in the east and pretty much everywhere in between. 

At present, I’m hoovering up the easy visits around London and, a fortnight on from Hayes and Yeading @ Woking, I headed in a totally different direction - Due East - to Hornchurch for their match against high-flying Dorchester. 

It could not have been a simpler expedition - in contrast to last weekend’s jaunt to North Wales - as all I had to do was walk around the corner from my flat, jump on the Central Line, make a quick adjustment of direction at Mile End and hop off at Upminster Bridge for a five minute walk to the ground. 

I say ‘Ground’ but Google Map reconnaissance had actually revealed an athletics stadium, which raised my temperature slightly as I absolutely hate watching football in them, but to be honest I was pleasantly surprised by the experience at Hornchurch. 

The stadium came equipped with all the athletics gear - the young ball boys seemed keen to try out the long jump pit given it was a gorgeous, sunny afternoon - but you didn’t seem all that far away from the action. 

There are three smart seated stands with red and white coloured seats and a small terrace. Away behind one goal is the clubhouse, with some decking which allowed that luxury of watching the action with a pint of something refreshing.

I soaked up the sunshine and the pre-match atmosphere on the ear-splitting PA system, before choosing from one of the many seats on offer in the nearside stand. The locals were friendly enough, including a silver-haired gentleman who paced up and down the running track, feeling every challenge and kicking every ball. 

The home fans on the terrace over to my right (about 100 metres away, I would guess with decent accuracy) tried at an atmosphere with a few shouts of ‘Ornchurch (as it is pronounced locally) but, oddly, the noise kind of sounded like it was blowing in on the wind from a distance. Very weird acoustics.  

The match itself was little to write home about and I wasn’t too distracted from constantly checking if Boston had thrown away their three-goal cushion in their big home game with Chester (they nearly did, before steadying to win 3-2).

A cracker from Lewis Smith won the game for Hornchurch about 15 minutes before half-time and it was enough to win the forward the man of the match champagne. He let fly from the best part of 30 yards, giving the visiting goalkeeper no chance and raising the only cheer of the afternoon.

Hornchurch, who have started the season slowly, were good value for their win and, in fact, I don’t recall Dorchester, who entered the game in second place, fashioning any chances much at all. 

In the second-half, Martin Tuohy nearly doubled the lead, striking the post after a mazy run had taken him round three defenders. He had an eventful, if ultimately unrewarded afternoon - striking the post again late on and seeing a goal disallowed for offside. 

All the straightforward Conference South grounds seem to have been done, it’s going to be more of an effort from now!

Next Match Can’t be certain.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

England 1 Ukraine 1

Off we go again, another vicious circle of stratospheric expectation with the national team - people in every street in the land humming Vindaloo, panic buying St George’s flags and calling for the canonisation of Steven Gerrard - before it all comes crashing down in the familiar spiral of shoot-outs and self-loathing. 

This next time, we can expect the shanked sport-kick to plop a couple of days later somewhere in the Amazon delta, for the World Cup is heading to Brazil, which makes me a great deal more excitable than if you said it was heading to Russia or somewhere really crazy like, say, Qatar. Oh hang on. 

And so, on a late summer’s evening at Wembley Stadium, England continued on the Road to Rio. If Roy Hodgson has done anything in his tenure as manager so far, it is to dampen expectations so much that you kind of turn up and think - ‘well, as long as we’re not humiliated, then it’s a job well done and Roy’s such a nice chap and perhaps if we ignore his resemblance to an owl and the lisp, perhaps everything will be alright in the end...’

Now, I’m as English as they come (something which was awkwardly apparent when I lived in Scotland). I enjoy watching cricket, I like a pint of good ale in the local pub, I appreciate the art of Turner and Constable, and the music of Elgar and Britten and Oasis, I think the Houses of Parliament is the most beautiful building in the world and I believe gazing out at the rolling countryside on the train journey from London to the North is good for the soul. 

If I had a boat, I’d probably mess around in it and if I lived near a village green, I’d probably go there sometimes. But, unlike many in this country, I don’t share the rabid belief that we have the best football team in the world. Sure, the Euros exceeded all my predictions, but I’ve watched enough penalty heartaches through tear-filled eyes in the past to know not to get carried away - even if we have just demolished Moldova. 

And, on this occasion, I was right not to get ahead of myself. England were second best to Ukraine on their home pitch for large spells and so were horrendously profligate in front of goal in this game as to forfeit their right to win it. 

But despite what I’ve already said, I’m likely to become a regular at England internationals in the next few years. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do and, who knew, but it’s one hell of a lot easier if you live in London. Besides, Adam H needed a new match-going partner now that Andy P has emigrated to Scotland and I was only too happy to oblige. 

We had excellent seats behind the goal, the first time at Wembley I’d not been on the top tier, and the band were positioned not far behind us. In fact, we were if anything too close to them, as it seemed like just a continuous thudding noise rather than any discernible song - like if you dance next to the speakers in a club 

There was a pocket of fans initiating the atmosphere behind us too, often singing something different to the band but succeeding in getting almost everyone in our section involved. They started two ovations for the group of Army soldiers away to our left and there were several minutes of applause for the British Olympic and Paralympic medallists at half-time. Such a feel-good factor. 

But it didn’t extend to the team, who were pretty jammy to get as much as a point against an accomplished and forward thinking Ukraine side who dominated possession in the first-half. Up high to our right was a great swathe of empty stadium - some 20,000 seats - left redundant and those who stayed away missed only a succession of frustrating moments. 

After ten minutes, Jermain Defoe had a perfectly legitimate goal chalked off when his hand flew into Andriy Yarmolenko’s face in the act of shooting for goal. Being down the far end of the stadium, it took quite a few seconds for us to realise the official had blown.

Tom Cleverley had been excellent against Moldova and, playing in a more advanced position than he has been used to at Manchester United, he was in the right place for an absolute sitter when Defoe deflected Gerrard’s cross into his path. But from five yards and with 95% of the goal to aim for, he found the goalkeeper’s boot. 

I hadn’t been too impressed by Ukraine at the Euros, but the technical superiority of Oleg Blokhin’s team was painfully apparent when Yevgeni Konoplianka’s magnificent curling shot gave them the lead on 39 minutes. There was such a sense of inevitability about it that the crowd around us didn’t actually get that angry. 

Hodgson twisted and threw on first Danny Welbeck and then Daniel Sturridge to improve the attack. In fairness, England were much more assured in possession after the break and utilised the wing-backs more often. 

But in scoring the equaliser they cut it very fine indeed. Welbeck, who was very good, squandered an excellent opening when hitting the post from five yards out, leaving us all staring in numb disbelief. 

Eventually, salvation arrived in the form of Frank Lampard and his reliable penalty taking. Hodgson’s predecessors have said for many years that Lampard and Gerrard are simply incompatible in midfield, using their similarities as a convenient excuse not to deploy them together. But with both players now in their 30s and less inclined to hare forward, Hodgson has correctly realised that they can still run a midfield. 

Anyway, Welbeck prised a handball from the unfortunate Yevgen Khacherdi and Lampard rarely lets you down from 12 yards. There was only going to be one winner from that point and the crowd jacked up the volume - at least until Gerrard was dismissed for a second yellow card, his first ever dismissal for England. 

Farcically, Gerrard was set to be named the man of the match and his award was flashed up on the big screen to a cheer of concurrence from the crowd. But the tannoy announcer wasn’t so sure and after a moment’s hesitation, Lampard was picked instead - the FA clearly wanting to save face in light of the red card. 

A bit uncomfortable really, like watching England at the moment.

Next match: More Conference South action on Saturday with a trip to the East End for AFC Hornchurch against Dorchester.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Colwyn Bay 0 Boston United 2

It’s some 242 miles from the West End of London to the faded and largely forsaken North Wales ‘Riviera’ town of Colwyn Bay. The return journey seems a hell of a lot further if you lose. 

And so it was with great dalliance that I persuaded myself it would be a worthwhile investment of my time, energy, money, Young Person’s Railcard and lone day off to make a second visit to Colwyn this year. 

My nights were punctuated by nightmarish flashbacks to that Arctic-cold night in February when we trekked cross-country by minibus, only to come away with nothing thanks to that devastating last-minute goal. I would wake up in a cold sweat at the memory of climbing into bed shaking with the cold at four in the morning after the never-ending trip back. 

Now things seemed to be recurring. The midweek defeat at Oxford City - which I’d let slide through, I’m ashamed to admit, a burdensome feeling of apathy - was our fourth in succession and how the opening day celebrations at Droylsden seemed a distant memory. 

But things could only get better and, conjuring the same emotions as when I stepped on the BUSA bus back in February, I surrendered my rail fare and caught the 10.10 express to Chester, then a connection on to North Wales.

At least this time there would not be the pitch darkness and icy scenery of our last visit, offering the chance to wonder around and see what was left of this once proud and bustling seaside retreat colonised by the Victorians at the Coming of the Railways. 

The line skirts the Irish Sea coast, passing through Flint, Prestatyn and Rhyl before sweeping through Colwyn and onwards to Anglesey. Its sandbanks exposed in the low tide, the sea had an ethereal estuary quality and was shrouded in grey haze. 

The first sight to greet me on Welsh soil were two drunks arguing on a bench. With time to spare and no great desire to join them, I strolled down to the Promenade, where the derelict Victoria Pier, opened in 1900, stands as a sombre monument to days when the place teemed with life and laughter. 

But doubling back to make my way along the sea front to the ground, I came across only ice cream stalls at summer’s end, a few picnic benches and a ring of steel around the construction site that will give rise to a new watersports hub. There were a few jet skis tearing across the Bay - at least the place is trying to re-invent itself.

Llanellian Road had undergone a makeover too - what was a chilly, exposed terrace earlier in the year is now a smart, seated main stand. The whole place had clearly been given a lick of paint and a spruce up over the summer and it looked good in the brilliant sunshine which suddenly greeted me on the higher ground above the town. 

Remarkably, Colwyn had an identical record to us  - two opening wins, then four losses - and so something had to give. Nonetheless, the nervous pre-match chatter among the 80 or so travelling fans was about Jason Lee’s fate should we once again leave this ground pointless. 

But there was no need to worry. We were trooping round the side of the pitch to the far end when, after a mere 11 seconds, Ian Ross chipped the ball forward and Marc Newsham nodded into the path of Spencer Weir-Daley to gallop clear. 

His composed lob as goalkeeper Chris Sanna advanced was a delight and seeing the players running our way to celebrate, I put on a Usain Bolt-esque burst - satchel swinging inelegantly behind me - to reach over the barrier and get a nice hi-five from SWD. 

After such a dream start, United dominated the first-half, their cause helped when Frank Sinclair picked up a second booking after only 22 minutes. If some players are old, then Sinclair must be neolithic and he showed his age by taking about five minutes to walk back to the changing rooms. It was all going our way. 

Bay tried to push forward but found United’s defence as unforgiving as the Pass at Thermopylae. Tom Ward and Nathan Stainsfield at centre-half didn’t put a foot out of place or shirk an aerial challenge all afternoon, often reading the danger before the Welsh side even realised what they’d done was dangerous. 

United also looked far more stable for the return of captain Gareth Jellyman and for adopting a mixed approach to going forward. While so many frustrating games of the past have seen either infernal long balls or constant passing around the midfield without any penetration, there was a nice mixture here and the home defence had problems pre-empting it. 

There had been plenty of agricultural tackles - and plenty of whining noises from the predominantly Scouse home support (where have the boyos gone?) - and times when the referee looked a bit out of his depth. But one call he did get right delivered United’s second. 

By this point the better team by some distance, Ward, up for a corner, was fouled by Michael Thomas and Newsham settled the game from 12 yards. 

United coasted home, while the fans lapped up the comfortable win in the sunshine. This was ample compensation for February and I even provided a further stimulus to the local economy by buying some fish and chips on the walk back. 

I ate them on the same bench the drunks had been on earlier. To be fair, they weren’t very nice but absolutely nothing was going to ruin an invigorating trip to the seaside for Boston United.

Next Match: England v Ukraine on Tuesday night at Wembley.


Sunday, 2 September 2012

Hayes and Yeading 2 Welling United 1

Everybody has a best day of their life and, in the absence of kids or a spouse, I think that one of the greatest moments in mine so far was Sunday April 29, 2002. The venue was Church Road, Hayes in West London. The occasion was the deciding afternoon in the Conference championship with Boston United and Dagenham neck-and-neck for the one promotion place to the promised land of the Football League.

It seemed as though Boston had been evacuated for the day - at least 2,500 supporters bedecked in amber and black packed the open terraces of the now defunct ground, singing and dancing, while the rest of the town watched on Sky TV. 

I was not as committed to Boston United in those days and was only there by a fluke really as my uncle had managed to get two cancelled seats on one of the many supporters’ coaches. That day, that 2-0 win over Hayes and the wonderful celebrations on the pitch afterwards cemented my love of my football club. 

In the decade since, a great deal has happened to the two protagonists that day. While United have been up, down and a little way back again, Hayes have been on something of a rollercoaster too. The Hayes club we played that day, with roots dating back to 1909, merged with Yeading FC in 2007 and began a new life together in the Conference South.  

It took just two years to gain promotion into the Conference National and there they stayed until earlier this year, always managing to beat relegation despite possessing far inferior resources to many of their opponents. But 2011-2012 proved one season too many and the amalgamated club returned to Conference South. 

But as Church Road became dilapidated, they were forced to move anti-clockwise around Greater London and out to Surrey, hence why I found myself on a train to Woking at 2pm on Saturday afternoon. A new home, on the site of Yeading’s old ground, is being built and should be nearing completion by the end of this season. 

The programme included a couple of pictures of the new main stand being assembled, which must have been a heart-warming sight for the small band of faithful followers who continue to make the necessary 20-mile journey to Kingfield for their “home” fixtures. It’s a bit like Boston having to play their home matches at Spalding or something - not very far but nonetheless quite annoying. 

Woking is doubly famous for being the birthplace of Mod icon Paul Weller - a great hero of mine - and for being the first town destroyed by the Martians in the H.G. Wells Sci-fi novel ‘War of the Worlds’ which even now frightens the life out of me. 

There is a sculpture of a Martian fighting machine somewhere in Woking but I didn’t have time to search for it, nor Stanley Road, where Weller grew up. The Jam’s “Town Called Malice” was written about the place and an excellent 1995 solo album is named after his home street. 

Kingfield is a curious mix of old and new - a new, all-seater stand behind one of the goals towered over the small terraces and ramshackle seated stands along the side. The shiny cantilevered stand wasn’t open for this one, so I took up a position on the terrace at the other end, immediately noticing that the crowd was split pretty much 50:50 between home and away fans. 

I’d been impressed by Welling in their pre-season match with Charlton but they were on the back foot right away here. It was obvious that Hayes had played at a higher level last season - their players passed the ball intelligently and weren’t afraid to use a bit of cheeky trickery to beat defenders. They also had someone called Pele at number five, which was amusing. 

They took the lead on 10 minutes through a lovely goal - Kudus Oyenuga (who it has to be said, has a good name) played the ball forward, the away defence dithered and Jerome Anderson nipped in to beat the goalkeeper with a gorgeous chip. 

More goals should have followed and the home fans warmed to the neat style of football on offer. Welling barely got a touch, let alone a concerted spell of pressure, and Oyenuga struck the base of the post five minutes before half-time. It would prove costly as the visitors levelled just before the break. Fraser Franks fired a loose ball towards goal and Ross Lafayette back-heeled the ball home. 

They technically led for a matter of minute, as Hayes restored their advantage 23 seconds into the second period when Tobi Joseph delivered low and on a plate for Oyenuga to sweep home a deserved goal. 

Hayes may have scored early in the half, but they encountered few problems in hanging on. The Welling fans stood around me grew more and more exasperated as passes went astray and the occasional pot-shot flew wide. There were a few corners and long throw opportunities, but Hayes never looked overly troubled. They saw out seven minutes of injury time to win it - and deservedly so on a very pleasant afternoon out. 

Next Match: Hoping to make Boston’s away match at Oxford City on Tuesday evening, though the way we’ve been playing of late I’m in two minds.