Still, this bit was fun! It's the last day of the season, a win is required to finish runners up and we've only lost 3 league games since November. Bailey, Nurse, Fowler, Honey, Gray and a Tony Quinton hat-trick. Boom!
|The Camrose. Scene of a bumming....|
BASINGSTOKE TOWN - 0 SUTTON UNITED - 5
Ryman Premier Division - 1st May 2004
So here we are again. The end of the season.
By christ it hasn’t half gone quickly since November! Probably something to do with only picking up 3 defeats in the league between then & today. Well, it's certainly helped pass the time a bit anyway.
Today also brings to an end the U’s latest membership stint in the Isthmian League, hopefully for ever. A league that bar a couple of spells in the top flight of Non-league football has been our ‘home’ for about 35 years. Although, the antics of the league’s board this season in challenging the proposed Conference restructure via the courts and then charging it’s member clubs (eg. Us!) for the costs when they subsequently lost has left something of a sour taste in the mouth. Sadly, this means most supporters and probably the clubs themselves who are in those 13 qualifying spots for the new 'Conference South' are perhaps a little glad to be getting away from the dusty blazers when we should maybe should all be feeling a bit more nostalgic.
Today's clash at Camrose is probably one of the most interesting remaining on the fixture list, with our lads still going like a train in search of the runners-up spot and the hosts needing a win to to be sure of the 13th and last ‘automatic’ qualifying spot for the new southern Conference league ahead of Maidenhead, it should ensure things are far more interesting than they would normally be for a game between a team that can't win the league and someone just below mid-table.
For once today, our national transport system doesn’t let me down & I find myself outside the pub in Wimbledon disgracefully early and have to wait until the doors are unlocked so I may enter. Unfortunately, once inside I’m a bit slow to order and before I know it, Bob Greek & Windy have all appeared out of nowhere and ordered their own beers, sadly all at my expense.
Sneaky bastards. If only they'd been here a few minutes earlier, the pub might have let us in before 11!
After a quick couple of liveners, it’s off to the station and our train to Basingstoke, with Greek carrying a large bottle of Spanish lager he’s obtained from Threshers to help keep him refreshed on the train down. Planning to get a bit tiddly are we by any chance big fella??
Two trains and that large bottle of San Miguel later, we finally step off in Hampshire and make the short stroll across the car park to the Queens Arms by the station for a few more pre-match lubricants and also to watch the Arsenal-Brum game on the box. Mr & Mrs Chalmers then join us in time for a quick snifter before we scarper towards the ground. Luckily, as they're driving today there's no need for the usual wait for cabs. It seems they've got some theatre thing tonight after the match, so won't be hanging about after.
At the ground, we find that the U’s are making only one change for today, with Eddie Akuamouah returning after being rested last week against Heybridge. So Lewis Gonsalves reverts to a spot on the bench.
It seems like we’ve barely left the bar and settled down behind the goal at the open end as the game starts and the result we need to try & nick 2nd spot from Hendon is already set up. Nurse challenges a dithering defender on the byeline and is awarded a corner. Bailey swings it in from the right and Tony Quinton nips in completely unmarked at the near post to sidefoot a crisp volley under the ‘keeper from closed range. YEEEEEES! Now that's the sort of start we needed! Wonder if Hendon are losing yet???
Sadly, there's no sign of any update on my mobile from my man at that game, so one would have to assume not. Still, as promised, I fire off a quick SMS to my contact at Maidenhead to let him know that their only rivals for 13th are 1 down. It soon transpires that the Magpies are ahead early on as well! Then again, they are playing the already doomed Aylesbury at home, so it's probably to be expected. I also take a moment to inform other contacts at Hendon & Hornchurch. To no response. Well, no news is good news I say.
Basingstoke find it difficult to step up and don’t really look like a side meant to be scrapping hard for a place to retain their current status 1 level below the Conference. Although on 15 minutes, there's a brief sign of life when a ball is prodded through the U’s defence, but the linemans flag is up in good time and matey's toe poke past Andy “I know you’re offside mate & I can’t be arsed to stop that shot” Iga naturally doesn’t count.
|Young guns. Yeah!|
It's still a wake up though. On 18 minutes a swift exchange of short passes on the right carves open the home defence, sending Gray to the byeline. He delivers a fast paced ball into the box that a defender manages to nod away at the back post for a corner. Bailey again puts the ball to the near post and having not learned their lesson from the first goal, the home defence once more goes walkies, leaving Quinton completely unmarked again. The result? Quinno meets the ball with a sweet, full blooded header into the roof of the net from a few yards out and we all jump around like loons as we're now 2-0 to the good.
Another SMS message is required methinks. I chuckle as I imagine the delight I’m currently sparking on a terrace in Maidenhead and disappointment on one in Northamptonshire.
The U’s are now pressing hard to try & kill the game off before half time, with the rather shell shocked ‘Stoke defence struggling to cope with the driving runs of Nurse, Bailey & Gray. Eddie nods on a pass down the left, sending Nurse scampering clear. But his low ball across the box goes to waste as no-one in a green & white shirt can get there quick enough to meet it and turn it goalwards.
Another good run down the left from Nurse ends with a ball being pulled back to the edge of the box for Bailey. He steps inside his man & fires in a low shot that another defender just manages to get a touch to and deflect it wide for another corner. On 26 minutes, Boosey makes one of his darting runs from halfway before slipping a pass into the right hand channel for Nurse. JN tries his luck with a snap shot, but the ‘keeper is alert to it and pushes his strike around the near post.
The respite is brief. 2 minutes later a ball out right finds Gray, he immediately switches the play back infield to Nurse who drifts past 2 rather disinterested looking opponents just inside the box before suddenly finding himself dead in front of goal with only the ‘keeper to beat. Despite the stoppers attempt to close down the angle it's to no avail and our top scorer calmly slips the ball past him into the bottom right hand corner, once again sparking delight on the terrace behind the goal.
Game, set & match old bean!
Another quick SMS to Maidenhead reveals that they’re now standing at 1-1, which is still just enough to put them 13th & knock today's hosts into the play-off lottery. Still, despite us being pretty much home & dry, the lack of any news from the Hendon match up in Kettering means we're all still unable to relax & enjoy the 3 points almost certainly heading our way.
Well, when I say 'we' I mean us the fans. The team however are showing absolutely no mercy & keep playing, pressing up on the struggling rearguard and bamboozling them with runs from all angles. Nurse shows some nice footwork down the right touchline and races in, before crossing low into the box. The ball is deflected out to the edge of the 18 yard box where Nicky Bailey is lurking, but he drives his effort high of the mark.
As the half heads towards it’s conclusion, the home side finally find their feet and manage to make a couple of noteworthy raids on our goal. 38 minutes in, a pass is threaded through the U’s defence and Palmer chases back to intercept. The attacker goes down under his challenge, drawing a loud call for a penalty from behind the goal, but not much from the players themselves. Around a minute later, Iga is called upon to make his first stop of the afternoon when a pass into the channel on the right. The striker turns his marker and fires in his shot, but Andy has it covered and pushes it wide. The lads respond in the last couple of minutes, Bailey dropping a deep free-kick in from the left to the back post that Nurse dives in to head into the side netting. The last act of the half though comes from the home side, a move down our left ending with a pass inside & finding a man who’s lost his marker. But with the goal at his mercy, he pulls his shot across the face of the target & wide of the far post.
We amble over into the packed bar, but after a few minutes it’s pretty clear that we’re not going to get a drink anytime soon, let alone during the half time break & so the rest of us head back outside, leaving Greek & Windy to persevere at getting some refreshments.
|Tony Quinton completes his hat-trick....|
We begin the second 45 as we did the first and any hopes the home side had of salvaging anything at all from the match are completely extinguished barely a couple of minutes after the restart. Honey receives the ball from a throw in from the right, turns his marker and darts into the box before being rather clumsily felled, leaving the ref little option but to point to the spot and award the penalty.
Bailey immediately picks up the ball and appears to fend off applications for the job from Nurse & Fowler, instead peering over to the bench. JR seems to have had the same idea and instead Nick hands the ball over to Tony Quinton to take it. The defender seems a bit bemused at being lumped with the responsibilty, but as he's on a hat-trick and the result is pretty much a formality already, it's got to be done!
Quinno places the ball and steadies himself before striding up, sending the keeper the wrong way and slotting his kick right inside the left hand post. Naturally everyone celebrates this unlikely hat-trick with the vigour it deserves as Quincy himself wheels away and whips off his shirt in a Boosey-esque celebration. One that'll land him on the front page of the NLP the following morning.
However, whilst it may be 4-0 here there's STILL no word from Hendon up at Kettering. Bugger!
After the pen, Basingstoke eventually seem to realise they're either heading for a stay in the Ryman or at least a small extension of their season whilst they faff about in the Play-offs and find a bit of fight from somewhere to start making a bit of a game of it. On 53 minutes, a deep ball in from the left finds a forward in some space, but his smart volley fizzes past Iga and beyond the far post. Then on the hour, a pass out left sets a ‘Stoke man on a run that takes him past Jinadu and to the byeline, he pulls the ball back across the box and it’s deflected in on goal at the near post, only for Andy Iga to make a superb reflex save & somehow push the ball away & over the bar.
To be fair, despite already being well beaten, they at least keep trying obviously looking to give their no doubt thoroughly depressed following something to cheer about. With 62 minutes on the clock, a corner on the left is driven low into the box. Iga dives down & pushes the ball away from goal. It’s immediately swung back in from the left & drops just over Jinadu finding a forward just behind him, but seeing the ball late his volley from 8 yards out is skied well over the bar. This particular miss seems to knock the final bit of fight out of our hosts and we soon settle back into controlling the match.
Gonsalves, now on as a sub, slips a pass down the left for Nurse who takes it to the byeline before crossing. It’s a shade too high for Bailey in the Middle but falls for Gray beyond the back post. His rasping strike is half blocked by a defender and deflects to Nurse almost on the line at the back post, but what seems a simple tap in goes bad when the ball bobbles up horribly in front of him, hits his arm and the ref awards a free-kick against him for hand ball!
Then, at 4.21, it happens. BEEP BEEP.
The mobile comes out of the pocket. Oh bollocks. Is this the ‘hendon are losing’ SMS? Or is it just fucking Oscar causing me unnecessary anxiety by pestering me for the score?
Thankfully, it’s the former.
I stand there looking at the message from ‘Hendon Steve’. It simply says “1 down”. Now, how do I pass on this wonderful information to my fellow supporters on the terrace next to me? Do I simply tell the person next to me & allow word of mouth to spread it sublty, or do I make it a little more obvious? However, seeing as I don’t really do subtle, the choice is simple. Jump up and down like a loon, going "YEEEEEEEEEEEEEEESSSSSSSSSSSS!" until everyone else cottons on eactly why I’m jumping around like a loon. And they do. Pretty dammned quickly. Smart people that they are.
Within moments a chorus of “One-nil to the Kettering!!!” has broken out. Now we can start enjoying the match a bit more! The chant seems to spur the lads forwards as within 60 seconds Matt Gray runs onto a pass out to the right, cuts in and thumps a shot into the midriff of the ‘keeper that he has to grab at the second attempt. Hardly has the excitement all died down when at 4.23 the phone goes again.
BEEP BEEP. Oh fuck. They’ve equalised. I just KNOW they’ve equalised.....
They haven’t. The message simply reads “two down now”. Time to start hollering like a lunatic again!
As you can see, I went for the subtle option second time round as well. Another song breaks out and now we really can start to party, as barring a huge fightback up in Kettering from a tired Hendon side down to the bare bones thanks to their late season fixture pile up, we’re bloody runners-up!
The excitement gets to me a little and whilst scribbling some notes, I look up to see us attacking and instinctively shout “Go on Eddie!!”. Unfortunately, I'd forgotten Mr Akuamouah had been subbed a good few minutes before and I’m calling Nursey “Eddie”. Much to the derision of the people around me.
Fuckers. That's gratitude for you eh? Keeping 'em bang up to date with other results and they just mock me!
Sutton keep pressing despite now being in absolutely no doubt about the current state of play and with about 15 minutes left to play, the icing is generously applied to the yummy 2nd place cake. Bailey plays a wonderful raking diagonal crossfield pass from just inside the Basingstoke half, picking out Fowler around 25 yards out. With the defence panicking, he attacks the box and looking up, spots the unlikely figure of Paul Honey tearing into the heart of the area. Unselfishly, Matty forgoes a chance of notching his own 20th goal of the season and squares the ball into the stride of Honey and he belies his scruffy midfield battler's image with a stylish finish, sweeping the ball past the helpless ‘keeper at his near post.
Cue more mad celebrations behind the goal. Now we’re really cooking!
If all this isn't erough to already put us into party mood, we certainly bloody are at about 4.35pm. Another SMS and another goal at Kettering. “3-0 down now. Congrats on 2nd place” is all it says and all it needs to say. I show my sporting side at this point and thank Steve for both his best wishes and kindly keeping me informed of the scores.
Once more, thanks to all the noise and celebrations under the cover at our end, the lads out on the pitch seem to get the full jist of what's going on and step off the gas a little, looking to cruise out the last 10 minutes. Except Matt Fowler, who is still looking for his 20th of the season & won’t let it lie! Jon Nurse tries his best to set him up, battling his way through on the left before putting a pass onto the penalty spot. Fowler nips in, but his toe’d effort is just blocked by the ‘keeper & cleared.
Basingstoke nearly snatch a consolation with 5 minutes to play, but the lads apparently aren’t in anything like a charitable mood and when a left sided corner is missed by Iga, Gray is there to nod the resulting header on goal off the line from under the bar. Talk about a massive 'fuck you'. When it's not your day, it's just not your day I s'pose.
The last real action of the match comes with not much time left, a ball down the right sending Quinton forwards on a surging run (you’d have think he’d have had enough excitement for one day!) before delivering a great cross to the back post for Jon Nurse, but with a simple header and the net begging, he’s blatantly barged over by the defender. But the ref, now perhaps feeling a little sorry for the thoroughly battered home side, gives nothing & waves ‘play on’. Bastard.
Eventually though, he decides enough is enough and ends Basingstoke’s miserable afternoon. At which point, the U’s lads come over to accept the congratulations from the jubilant fans behind the goal. Fucking runners-up!!!! Who’d have thunk it eh!!!
|Front page of the NLP baby! Fame at last!|
Having let the lads know how chuffed we are, they disappear off down the tunnel and we head into the bar to get stuck into fully celebrating a brilliant end to the season. Drinks are sunk, cigars are smoked and then a lethargy sinks in. We really can’t be arsed to get back to the station for the train home either by cab or bus. Hatching a plan, we approach our esteemed Chairman with regards to the subject of a lift home. Thankfully he has no problem with this and we all agree to chip in for the team’s post-match-journey-home beers, which buys Windy, Greek, Bob & myself a spot on the team coach!
As we leave, the driver seems a little perturbed to have some pretty boozed up individuals on board and whilst he relents on letting the selection of bottles on, he fully draws the line at Quinton trying to sneak an almost full pint of lager on board. He tries to neck it, but quickly abandons the idea and decides to ditch it. "Don't waste it!" wails Greek and relieves him of the glass before sinking most of a pint in 2 gulps. The big fella leaves an astounded Quinton stood speechless outside and boards the bus with a "Home James!" and a loud belch. You might have the match ball mate, but you can't down a pint to save your life!
An amusing journey home follows with much banter, many beers sunk, naughty magazines, lots of singing and JR literally dancing in the aisle. And also a slightly drunk Greek pestering his man, hat-trick hero Quinton, into handing over the no7 shirt that he’s sponsored this season at the end of season do. Whether he does or not remains to be seen! Eventually back at the club, we spend a while sinking a couple more and chatting with the team before doing some serious damage to the buffet which has been laid on for the lads before eventually taking our leave & staggering back to the Hood with pockets stuffed with sausage rolls and other such savouries for the celebrations to continue long into the night.
I’d go into detail, but it's all a little hazy to be honest. Suffice to say it got drunkerer. A lot lot drunkerer.
WE ARE RUNNERS UP, SAY WE ARE RUNNERS UP!