I decided against following Boston United up to Guiseley. It’s a nice little place but when you’ve been there about 6,000 times in the last five years - that’s genuinely how it feels - and there’s little to no chance of a result, you tend to see sense.
As usual, there was plenty happening within the M25 but now that I’ve done all the Premier League and Football League grounds within the Capital, you need to travel a little further afield and delve a little further down to find a new place to visit.
Hence, to the (Conference) South and the leafy suburban sprawl of a drizzly Bromley. It couldn’t have been much easier - circle line from Bayswater to Victoria, rail to Bromley South in 25 minutes and then, after turning away from the hustle-bustle of the High Street, a 20-minute stroll past well-kept, well-expensive houses to the Hayes Road ground.
It had a few echoes of the seventies sitcom, “The Good Life” about it. Quintessential English suburbia melting away slowly into quagmire allotments, leafy copses, horses in wooden stables and, stretching away in the distance, the never-ending Garden of England.
Behind the large expanse of open terrace on which I stood was a cricket pitch, just yearning for the heavy grey skies to clear off and the summer to return. A church spire poked out above the bare trees on the opposite end of Bromley Common in the near distance and it couldn’t have felt more unlike London.
A nice setting, then, but what about the action. Well, despite what the Conference South table might suggest at a first glance, there was a lot resting on the game. The programme told me that just four points currently separate 10th from 21st (second bottom) in what is a ridiculously tight division. Within this mash-up, Bromley were 12th and Basingstoke, well below their usual play-off chasing form, were 20th.
As one of the chaps stood near me identified, a win for Bromley would have taken them into the top six, while a defeat could have theoretically left them in the bottom three!
The pitch looked dreadful - it has clearly taken some hammer over the winter and there were large patches which were simply sand. The poor groundsman spent the entire duration of the players’ warm-ups replacing divots with his fork.
It didn’t seem to bother Basingstoke, who had the lead before Bromley had touched the ball. On four minutes, Shaun McAuley used a burst of pace to get down the right and then fired the ball across goal. Bromley defenders tried in vain to get a telling touch to stop it, but it came right through to Simon Dunn, who finished well.
The knot of 20-or-so Basingstoke (or “Bay-stoke” as they necessarily have to abbreviate it during chants) fans celebrated on the slippery terrace steps.
It took ages for Bromley to muster a shot or generally do anything of note and those around me talked in a seen-it-all-before manner every time a forward assault broke down.
There was a horrible moment shortly before half-time, when Basingstoke’s Ross Adams went down with a whelp of pain when blocking a shot from Bromley’s Ian Daly. You could hear the crack of ankle bone from fifty yards away, a sound you always hate to hear. His teammates held head in hand at the sight of their crumpled comrade and it took nearly ten minutes for the St John’s Ambulance folk to stretcher the poor guy off. You can only hope he makes a speedy recovery.
It didn’t affect Basingstoke one bit and, in the seventh and final minute of stoppage time, they took an even greater stranglehold on the match. Manny Williams slipped in Dunn again and the frontman made no mistake to continue his fine first-half performance.
It was ten past four before we resumed and the second period continued in much the same way. Bromley pepped up a little but it was mainly Basingstoke who carried the greater threat on the break, in defiance of their respective league placings.
Delano Sam-Yorke wasn’t afraid to have a run at the home defence, who would nearly always backtrack, and he missed a couple of good chances to extend the lead - the first a header just wide and then a run which required goalkeeper Joe Welch to dive bravely at his toes.
Sam-Yorke might have won a penalty too, but his admittedly elaborate fall was adjudged to be just outside the box. The gloriously named Jordace Holder-Spooner - who I can only presume goes by the name “Spoony” - fired the subsequent free-kick over.
With 20 minutes left, Bromley at last started to rally. They were helped by the official, who correctly spotted Jay Gasson’s hand ball and Danny Waldren fired straight and true down the middle to restore interest in the game.
Encouraged by an awakening crowd, Bromley poured forward in search of an equaliser. It should have arrived when Elliot Buchanan crossed from the right and Max Noble, with a tap-in at the far post, contrived to slip in the mud and put the ball wide. One for the bloopers reel, if anyone was actually taping the match...
Noble dusted himself down and struck the post with a curling shot moments later, while up the other end, Welch blocked a shot from McAuley with his right leg as Basingstoke came a fraction away from making absolutely sure.
The away defence, who has been remarkably vocal all afternoon with leadership-seminar style quotes like “WE CAN HOLD ON IF WE BELIEVE IN OURSELVES AND EACH OTHER”, clung on for a crucial three points that further shook up this ridiculously close league.
Next Match: Working over the FA Cup fifth round next weekend but should get a match in this week...