It seemed rather fitting somehow to go to the Chertsey Town v Wembley match, a Saturday afternoon Combined Counties League (Premier Division) encounter with a traditional 3pm kick-off. My FA Cup run had started here at this ground, Alwyns Lane, way back at the start of this season. A team called Wembley were in town for the final game of the campaign and catching this one felt quite apt.
The game had all the feel of a preseason knock-about. Both teams have had a mediocre season and mid-table obscurity beckoned long before the Christmas lights had been taken down. Yesterday the sun was shining, the shorts and flip-flops were out in force and sun block was in order. Except the latter never crossed my mind and I ended up with a burnt bonce. My wife would later remark, with that kind of stifled amusement that is evident in a person who is impressed with their own quality of wit, that I resembled a bottle of tomato ketchup. Red with a white top. Thanks dear.
It certainly is relaxing going to a game when the venue is on your own doorstep. A lovely beer garden lunch (phase one of the forehead scalding) was followed by a quick peek at the closing ten minutes of the Chelsea - Manchester United game, including that late penalty that turned Sir Alex Ferguson's face the same colour as my head. And then a leisurely amble down to the ground, arriving a little after ten to three. A stampede to the (single) turnstile was never going to be an issue. I went to the game with old faithfuls PB and Mackem and fellow Chertsey resident Gee Jay.
The game itself was nothing to write home about, even if home was only around the corner. When Chertsey Town scored the only goal of the game the substitutes were still getting comfy in the dugouts. My watch still read 3pm, but I think the referee had either started the game a couple of minutes early or my watch was slow. A neat move saw the ball pushed out to the right and the resulting cross into the box was finished comprehensively. I'm not sure who scored for Chertsey. No tannoy announcements or big screen replays here. I'd like to say it was the number nine, John Pomroy, if only to get the chance to mention that he scored his 50th goal of the season last week. An impressive haul for any striker, irrespective of the standard of football. Law of averages dictate that it probably was Pomroy who slotted home.
Such an early goal always gives rise to thoughts of goal fests, but unfortunately for the crowd of 153, that was the end of the scoring. The preseason ambiance must have filtered through to both sides as neither showed any urgency in their play. Throughout the ninety minutes Chertsey Town were the more threatening and were the team in control. They had many chances to score, but just didn't seemed that bothered about doing so. Their football was at times over-elaborate with fancy flicks or back heels failing to impress, when a more conventional approach would have paid dividends. Wembley certainly struggled with the pace of the Chertsey wide men and Marc Talbot in goal made a few fine saves to prevent a greater margin of victory.
Inevitably, concentration on the lacklustre proceedings began to falter and my strongest memories are of peripheral goings on. These were, in the main, things that one is far more aware of at these smaller grounds, with the touchline only a few yards away. This is what I enjoyed so much in the earlier rounds of the FA Cup, being so close to the action that watching a game became a quite different experience altogether. The banter between players, the constant abuse of the referee and non-stop berating of the assistants. Big news this season has been the experimental efforts to minimise the stick that officials on the pitch receive, but it was interesting yesterday to hear the officials give as good as they got.
Particularly one of the referee's assistants. On one occasion, Wembley were defending a set piece. As the ball was centred, one of the Wembley centre backs stood with his arm raised high above his head (in Tony Adams fashion) and shouted "Oi! Lino! Offside!". The said defender was clearly the last man in the area, by a country mile. The assistant screamed back a response with some gusto "You're the one playing him on!!!". The only words missing at the end of his reply were "you plonker".
As the game drifted on into the second half, we noticed that the Chertsey players were playing their own "pass the coin" game. I have heard about this, but never witnessed it. The drill is something like this. One of the players (normally the captain) takes to the field with a small object, usually a coin, that can easily be transferred from player to player during the course of a game. There is a bet riding on which player is holding the coin at certain key points in the game e.g. when a goal is scored. The player left in possession at such times would be the "loser" and have to honour a bet e.g. buy a round of drinks in the bar after the match. This was quite evidently happening, with the Chertsey full back Paul Batholomew regularly receiving the coin. He spent most of the second half running around with his right hand clenched. No matter how often he relinquished the hot potato he seemed to get it back again. We lost track of the coin towards the end of the game, but my bet is that Bartholomew had an expensive evening.
Not a brilliant game then, but a comfortable three points for Chertsey Town to round off their season. A small group of young kids had started a game of football on a small area of grass just behind and below the terrace we were stood on, using a couple of Sainsbury's trolleys as one goal and a jumper and floodlight pylon as another. Frankly, their game was better. It ended 6-4. At the height of their contest, with the scores delicately balanced at 4-4, a wayward clearance flew in our direction. Yours truly nodded a fine goal in off a wobbly trolley wheel. To my dismay, one of the youngsters declared the goal null and void. He shouted up at me "that doesn't count" which I suppose was technically true. It was also at that point, as I headed the ball, that I realised how sunburnt my forehead was. Leather and third degree burning do not mix.
For Chertsey Town the curtain has drawn on another season. My season had began at Chertsey with dreams of Wembley; Chertsey had ended their's in the company of Wembley. In a almost poetic way, that deserves to be an end to any story. But for me, there is one chapter left. But before that final chapter, I just need to stick my head in a bucket of After Sun.