2nd Round Proper
Saturday December 1st 2007
Kick Off 3:00pm
Weather: Cold and windy
Distance travelled: 171 miles
They say that football is a universal language. It is the ice breaker at parties. It is the one thing most strangers have in common. And in the corner of a small bar in Cambridgeshire yesterday, this was more than evident.
I travelled to the game with two good friends, Mackem and PB (surely you remember them from earlier games; how could you forget?). I arranged to meet another friend who lives in Cambridge; she has known me longer than I care to recall and therefore knows me far too well. Arrangements had also been made for me to be interviewed (about this mad venture) and we were to meet some budding young journalists, Dave, Dan and Gemma, who had travelled down from Lincoln for the game (see the happy group below). What is the collective noun for a group of journalists - a scribe? Anyway, we all met in the Cambridge Supporters Club bar before the game and not one of us present knew everyone else. Not an uncommon event and not especially newsworthy. But within minutes we were all happily chatting as if we had known each other for some time.
This is one of the things that I enjoy about football. We all had one single thing in common - the love of this beautiful game. The clubs supported around the table ranged from Cambridge United to QPR to Blackburn and to Liverpool. But we all had footy experiences to share, the same (old) jokes about other teams, fond memories of games gone by, expectations of games to come. This was more than me being interviewed. It was a group of strangers having a good old chin-wag about blokes who kick balls.
If I were to be brutally honest, that hour or so in the bar before the game was probably the highlight of the day. Dave, Dan and Gemma were excellent hosts. The game itself was pretty poor. In defence of both sets of players, the windy conditions prevented any sort of decent, flowing football. This was more like a bun fight in a gale. Not pretty.
The kick off was delayed for fifteen minutes as the crowds struggled into the Abbey Stadium. The official attendance was 4552, the biggest gate on my journey so far. My last visit to this ground must have been around ten years ago, and there has been some development since then. The majority of the ground still had a bit of a run down feel to it; ageing stands and rusting metalwork. But the stand that housed the Weymouth fans was rather impressive; this South Stand positively gleamed in comparison to the rest of the ground, bright amber with bold black "CUFC" lettering. Weymouth support seemed quite low, and the stand dwarfed the away contingent. It was, however, nice to see a fair proportion of the ground still terraced, something which is sadly disappearing from our game.
As for the match itself, I'm afraid there is not an awful lot to report. The wind had the upper hand. The most entertaining aspect of the first half was the inability of the Weymouth goalkeeper, Jason Matthews, to kick anywhere other than into touch to his left. It became increasingly comical to watch his failed attempts, his clearances regularly hoisted upon the wind and blown into the Main Stand. The poor guy was struggling and the Cambridge fans behind his goal were less than sympathetic. On one occasion he contrived to slice a dead ball in to touch on the opposite side which reduced the home support to fits of laughter.
Cambridge started the strongest and had a few decent chances in the first few minutes. Early doors Cambridge won a free kick and Gavin Hoyte forced a fantastic save from the Weymouth keeper. The home team had three reasonable chances in the first fifteen minutes all of which were turned away by the visiting goalie. Along with his battle with the wind, Matthews was fast becoming the centre of attention in the first half. The Cambridge fans began to chant "we want eight" in reference to their 7-0 drubbing of Weymouth earlier this year.
Then, rather fortuitously, Cambridge United scored from a penalty on twenty six minutes. Scott Rendell broke into the area on the angle and cut across his marker. There was the slightest of contact and Rendell went down. A bit too easily for me, but from where the referee was standing there was little choice for the man in the middle. Rendell brushed himself down to tuck the penalty away with aplomb. 1-0 to the hosts at half time.
In the second half, it was Cambridge's turn to battle with the elements and to be fair, as the game progressed, Weymouth looked the more likely to score. The second half was ever so scrappy and became totally, and painfully, bogged down in midfield. The Cambridge drummer (yet another game with a percussionist!) tried his hardest to drum up some sort of atmosphere. The rhythmic beat seemed to animate the crowd, but this was more likley a desperate attempt to combat the falling temperature. It was now so cold that body parts were starting to numb. I had by now lost all feeling below my waist and any my efforts to move in time with the beat were simply pathetic; think of a pissed Pinocchio and you will get the picture.
One of my friends commented on how little happened in the second half yet without the usual associated feeling that the game was dragging. I put it down to the body shutting down the brain. Hypothermia in a nutshell. I even thought I saw Santa Claus in amongst the Weymouth fans.
But then, with quarter of an hour to go, Weymouth realised they had to commit more men forward if they were to stay in the competition and it was in this final period that they created most of their chances. Their pressure culminated with a corner in the dying minutes from Anton Robinson which floated onto the bar, and bounced out for a goal kick. And with this last chance, Weymouth were blown out of the FA Cup.
A poor performance from Cambridge United, and they stumbled through to the Third Round. But a win is a win, one that their manager Jimmy Quinn described as "ugly". I'm afraid I can't disagree.
So my tenth game ended with a single goal separating the teams, and Cambridge United take over as the team to follow. Even though the game was far from a classic - the bacon rolls had even failed to live up to expectations - it had been another enjoyable day out.
For me, the chance to meet new acquaintances was the high point of the day. With hindsight, maybe we should have stayed in the bar. As always though, this is much easier said than done.