Pete Sixsmith profits from a football-free (you know what I mean) weekend when at least no one has to worry about the Sunderland score and heads for Kent in search of cup glory for Shildon. Fond dreams of Wembley live on after a first leg setback …
After the misery of the last week, (shocker against Norwich, another bloody birthday and being told I had to stay at work after Easter), I hoped to gain solace in the Garden of England where Shildon travelled to Royal Tunbridge Wells in the biggest ever culture clash FA Vase semi final ever.
A splendid night was spent near Bedford with Pete Horan’s daughter, son-in-law (a Mag, but one who is able to fasten his own shoe laces and walk past a football match without pinching the nets and corner flags) and their two smashing children. Should any of the readership ever be in the Bedford/Shefford area, we can heartily recommend The Engineers Arms in Henlow.
Then the weather intervened. There was a heavy snowfall in Beds and the news from Kent was not good. As we passed through Herts and Essex, straws were clutched at regarding the game being on. The weather improved in Kent – until we arrived at Royal Tunbridge Wells.
It started to snow. We found the ground. The referee and his assistants were inspecting. A group of home fans were armed with forks and mops ready to fork and mop.
The referee, a fine young man called Gary Bull from Chelmsford, said that he wanted to play it. The home club were desperate to play it – all those sandwiches, tea bags and programmes to sell. The Shildon fans, who were arriving in dribs and drabs, wanted to play it.
It snowed again. The referee said if it continued he couldn’t start it. The crowd lined up outside the pay huts. At 2pm Shildon arrived and said that they would play – although I gather they would have preferred a postponement. Game on.
Walking around the ground, I was reminded of the comments a British general made in 1917 as he viewed the battlefield at Passchendaele – “Did we send men out to fight in this?” The clay of Kent was churned up by the feet of 1700 spectators; the field itself was churned up by the 27 players who ran around on it.
The game was finely balanced for seventy five minutes, with Shildon probably having the better of it. Chances were at a premium and good football impossible, which may well have worked to Tunbridge’s advantage. As Shildon tired and introduced half fit subs, the Men of Kent seized the initiative.
They scored twice in the last 12 minutes, both as a direct result of Shildon players making uncharacteristic errors. The first was an under hit pass that allowed TW’s best player to scamper away and set up a chance for his centre forward which we Shildon fans hoped would be hit with the same aplomb that Danny Graham showed last Sunday. Alas, it was not.
The second came from the spot after a tired tackle by a defender and was put away with all the confidence that we associate with Craig Gardner.
On the final whistle, the home team lapped up the cheers of their not-at-all disgusted fans, while the Shildon players trudged off disconsolately. Injuries have taken their toll and it will be a difficult game for them next week – which is what was said after Barcelona had to claw back a 2-0 deficit against AC Milan and look what happened there!!
The journey back was difficult. One exposed stretch of the A1 between Stamford and Grantham was akin to a skating rink; we counted at least a dozen cars that had ended up in the ditch or on the central reservation. We saw no gritters.
So, next week, I hope to take in both games. If I leave the Manchester United game early, I can be back at Shildon for 3.15. Should we be hanging on for a win, I will stay – so expect the trusty Mazda to be heading for Dean Street at about 2.20.
A double celebration would make this old man very happy – but he is not counting on it. It could be a depressing evening at Sixsmith Towers.