Yes, I know we've whinged about this before (at length!) but never let it be said that Gandermonium doesn't labour a point to the point of tedium or flog a dead horse, so we're going to do it again by jingo! Having spent the whole time since the FA Trophy kicked off hoping that by thew time our turn came round to enter at the 3rd Qual stage we would draw anyone but Hemel Hempstead again. Well, dreams do come true as this time the old duffers up at Wembley paired us with Concord. Joy.
Now, I don't really have a problem with Concord Rangers FC. Well, apart from the fact they're based on Canvey Island and we've never ever seen a goal there. But apart from that, yeah. Woo. Party time. And er stuff. To be honest, it's more the latter fact that makes this such an underwhelming trip. In fact having witnessed two boring 0-0's on the first 2 visits, I amazingly, accidentally by coincidence on purpose found myself something else to do on the date we were next there. Oh how the rest of the crew mocked me. Until it finished 0-0 again. And we had a man sent off.
Still, they got to go and get shitfaced at the German Beirkeller in Fenchurch afterwards, where they had the whole place joining in Sutton songs and someone threw up on themselves. Plus several missed the last train home. So not a total disaster. I think we'll call that one a draw (and probably a 0-0 at that).
Nope, what makes this draw particularly dull is not only are this lot in our league, but that we were already going to Concord next week to try & get 3 points. Which makes this the second time this season the FA have managed to pair us with a side in a randomly drawn knock-out competition when we also have them the week prior or after in the league. Which is about as random as the sky being blue.
Still, now having an endless selection of Concord visits to choose from, I gamble that the cup game will be the more exciting of the two ties and have already sacked off next weeks encounter in favour of doing something else. And then going out in the evening. As whilst I do love my football and my team, I'm not an idiot.
Such is my bout of cup fever that I pretty much forget all about the match until late Friday afternoon when I realise that I've yet to bother even looking up trains to whisk us to the Essex Riviera. And keen to avoid Belly calling me up to ask what we're doing, I finally call up the National Rail website, point to something that gets us into London Bridge a short while before 11 and text everyone the details. Which means I can go back to picking my nose, which is infinitely more interesting than thinking about a trip to Canvey fucking Island.
|Santas Grotto? Nope. The Anchor, Benfleet.|
The good thing about this as an away day is that we can usually have a lie in and get a train after 10 rather than just after 9. Mostly as we just head to London Bridge, stroll over Tower Bridge and park our arses in the Liberty Bounds until about 2pm. So it's with a good 5 mins to spare that I stumble up the hill to Carshalton station to see Dukey completing his own hike up the southern face, puffing away on his usual duty free fag. Already on the platform awaiting us are 4 Days, Lil' Chris and Burgers. The latter making a 'half' day of it as he's got to be back for work at 9 tonight.
"Surely that means you can't have a beer then mate?" I point out as we wait for the train to arrive. "S'alright, I'll just stick to Becks" he shrugs.
Sounds like a plan to me.
The train arrives on time and we find Mr X, Belly and the Cheam Village Raiders already on board. Southampton Steve is also joining us, but for some odd reason he's going via Hackney Marshes rather than jumping on at Mitcham Junction like normal. Seems a bit of a strange route to me, but each to their own I s'pose. Wardy it seems has said he'll "Meet us at Clapham" despite the fact our route takes us nowhere near the fucking place.
Our journey to the exotic surrounds of Tulse Hill is without incident and we catch our connection. Then about halfway to the Bridge, a strange man appears in our carriage and he's wearing an Enfield Town jacket and hat. And he's a bit mental. We field a few odd questions, but the pick of the bunch goes as follows...
"Who you got today?"
"Is that at Sutton?"
He also seems to know that we lost on the opening day to Maidstone. Mainly as he mentions it about 30 fucking times. Also, he seems to think that we should be taking a train from Livepool Street to reach our final destination and helpfully advises us that the 194 bus goes straight there.
|Someone should tell their bench....|
We ditch our new best mate on the concourse when the electronic barriers flummox him and begin our stroll through the glorious sights of our nation's capital. Which is of course teeming with fucking tourists. What is it with Italians that makes them stand blocking pavements shouting loudly? Out of the way loud latins! You're wasting VDT! Eventually though having negotiated many aimless tourists, we finally arrive at the pub to unsurprisingly find Wardy propping up the bar with a pint already on the go. "Where the fuck were you at Clapham then?" asks Mr X, getting a simple two fingered reply.
We tuck into beverages of our own before Steve calls. "Where's this fucking pub then?". Now, the 'Spoons at Tower Hill is one of our more frequented haunts in this part of London. So when we say we're meeting in Tower Hill, everyone in the firm knows where we're heading. So it's a little confusing to us when we have members of the group who don't actually know it. Like Steve.
"I only know the other half of Tower Hill!" he complains when he finally arrives. "I play darts at the Peacock behind Fenchurch Street". This gets Wardy's interest. "You play darts with a Peacock?"
Give me strength.
We enjoy a couple of refreshments and the usual nonsense begins to flow. We fill Wardy in on the argumentative couple from Saturday as well as the trip to O'Niells. We also decide that he is to Peacekeeping what 'Doctor' Bell is to Nuclear Physics. I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions on what we mean by that one.
Now, as already mentioned, we usually park here until 2pm and get the last possible train out to Benfleet and cab it to the ground. But today, we're going adventuring instead and taking a step into the unknown. On the last trip out, X & Wardy had stumbled upon a little clutch of 3 boozers a couple of minutes walk from Benfleet station whilst searching for an offy to provide beers for the train back into London. And ever the intrepid sorts, we've elected to check them out today to see if the meet our exacting standards. Which are pretty much as follows.
1. Be open when we arrive.
2. Sell lager, beer & cider
3. Be somewhere we're unlikely to get stabbed in.
We're soon alighting at Benfleet and staring across at the foreboding landscape known as Canvey Island. But the delights of this little caravan infested paradise will have to wait. We have pubs to sample! And strolling off up the hill, we're soon in sight of the first of three boozers. This is the 'Hoy & Helmet' (Helmet, fnar!). Opposite is the 'Half Crown' and just up beyond a mini roundabout is the 'Anchor'. Using our own particular brand of logic we aim for the Anchor first as after this it's all downhill and will mean we're heading back towards the station and it's ready supply of taxi cabs.
See, we're not total morons. Sometimes.
Our choice of pub is well rewarded as we step into quite possibly the most Christmassy establishment on earth. And it's only the 28th November! Seriously, this gaff was so Xmassed up, it would have made Santa himself recoil in horror muttering "Fuck me lads, bit much innit?". All that was missing was Noddy Holder stood just inside the door bellowing "IT'S CHRIIIIIISTMAAAAAAS!!" in your lughole as you walked in. Ridiculous place!
|Us? In the Quiet Zone? With our reputation?|
No chance. It seems that the local version of Roses has suffered a break in and the thieving fuckers have not only lifted all the stock but a load of the cooking kit as well! All the place can offer is hot drinks and either Chicken or Tomato Cup-a-soup, with a roll. Mr X has gone for Chicken and is as utterly delighted with his anaemic watery poultry bases soup as you can imagine he'd be with a force 5 blowing rain into his face as he dips his roll into it. Still, we can't but help have some sympathy with the staff having had to deal with shit like that ourselves when we organised Roses 2.0 in the past and in our case the bastards left the cup-a-soups.
I make a mental note to write & tell Batchelors that their product is so shit, people won't even bloody steal it.
Worner, Downer, Wishart, Beckwith, Cooper, Collins, Amankwaah, McAllister, Dundas, Eastmond, Stearn SUBS - Fitchett, Bolarinwa, Gomis, John, Shaw
The wind and rain make for a tough 1st half and rather than try and play on what looks a soft pitch, we stick with Duns & Macca up top and go a bit more direct again. Unfortunately, Concord aren't known for channelling 1982 vintage Brazil. As we saw at our gaff, they can play, make no mistake. But they specialise in being big & fucking hard to beat. And for today's occasion, they're fielding the tallest defender I can remember seeing. In fact, their number 5 is about the biggest geezer I've seen since we did a tour of Partizan's ground in Belgrade. One of their Basketball division was milling about and he was easily 7ft. Ok, this fella isn't quite that tall, but he's not far off.
What I'm trying to say is we get absolutely nowhere.
The hosts have the better of the early exchanges and Worns has already had to make a decent save to keep things level when they do take the lead after about a quarter of an hour. And typically, the geezer responsible doesn't really mean it. He muscles Cooper off the ball out wide and swings in a cross from our right which floats over Worner and inside the far post. Things get worse less than 10 mins later when a ball into the box has Beckwith bundling an oppo over and the ref is pointing to the spot.
Thankfully on this occasion, the chance is wasted as the take drills his effort low and wide via the foot of Worner's left hand upright. The let off seems to give us the kick up the arse we need and we start getting the ball less right down Mr Fucking massive number 5's throat and wide for Stearn, Wishart and Amankwaah to get forward and balls in from the flanks. We mainly entertain ourselves during the half by joining in with the home bench's incessant shouts of 'Ref' for EVERY FUCKING CHALLENGE. It seems to work though as our accompaniment soon shows them the pointlessness of this bollocks and it dies off. Worner saves again from another long range effort and as we look like we're going in at the break a goal down, our slight change in tack pays off. Duns feeds Collins out left and he loops a cross in that the previously untroubled keeper completely flaps at, misses and it hits Amankwaah at the back stick and is bundled in over the line. 1-1 and game on!
Unfortunately, our start to the second 45 is much like the first and for almost 20 mins, we're struggling to make any impact. The oppo are having the better of the ball and Mr Worner is earning his corn at the other end with a couple more saves. But then we kick into gear and suddenly start slowly turning the screw. Their defence is finally being stretched and only a last ditch stop prevents Fitch from having a tap in and then a string of corners look like they might provide the breakthrough. The best of the bunch being Beckwith flicking on and Collins nodding towards the bottom corner until a fine fingertip save from the keeper. Less impressive is Collins handling of a cross in soon after which he inexplicably cushions back across his own box and perfectly tees up a lurking striker to once more put us behind.
We respond with the keeper making a decent save from Eastmond, but that's about it and with time almost up, Downer puts the nail in the coffin by bundling over a Concord man in the box and gifting them another pen. This time, their man makes no mistake and sends Worner the wrong way and us out of the Trophy.
With no real desire to hang around, I make a quick call to the cabby who dropped us off earlier and arrange transport back into Benfleet ASAP. So we head out to where we'd dropped off earlier and huddle together for warmth like slightly boozed Non-League Penguins. Soon enough, the first two cars arrive and we shoo off the others leaving Me, Wardy Dukey & Mr X. And we wait. Then a large taxi turns up, but some bloke who's been fishing about for a cab since we'd got out here nips in and grabs it. "I fucking bet that was ours" mutters X. And I think he's right as 10 mins later we're still waiting. Christ, they'll nick anything round here. Food, kitchen appliances, taxis. Almost anything but cup-a-soups! I grow weary of the wait and call my man back. He tells me to call the office, I refuse and suggest he comes back to fucking get us. In the end we reach a compromise where he comes back to get us in return for me not calling him every 2 minutes demanding to be rescued from hypothermia outside Concord Rangers Football Club. Negotiation, it's an art form I can tell you.
Having waved the others off 20 mins before and having clearly shouted to Belly that we were going to the Hoy & Helmet (snigger!) we finally arrive on the verge of frostbite and stumble in to see the Leicester - Man Utd game is underway. We look around the pub. Then look some more. Where the fuck is everyone?? Naturally, we get a round in while we ponder that conundrum. It turns out that the rest of the idiots haven't had their fill of the Winter Wonderland up at the Anchor and gone there instead. Sadly for them, Noddy still hadn't turned up and they eventually wander down to join us for the latter stages of the tellybox match. But a couple of pints later, a train is chosen and it's time to return to the big city and civilisation. With this in mind, the usual raiding parties are dispatched to pillage the local establishments for supplies. Mr X and Dukey hit the Costcutter for booze and Wardy wanders into the chinese and orders...er...half a duck with pancakes.
What can I say? We're fine diners!
|Us. With ladies. No, really.|
The duck lasts about as long as you think it would with several ravenous pissheads who've not eaten all day and it doesn't even touch the sides. It's certainly not enough to fortify for another jaunt to the Beirkeller. Of course, we still head down in to the bowels of the place and order up some steins. Another daft evening follows where we largely keep the DJ busy. He even has that bloody stupid Fox song that Dukey likes. We also make friends with the table next to us, who having realised we're Sutton United fans do some Wiki-ing and look us up. It's not too long before we're teaching them the gospel of our Lord Dundas and the young ladies amongst them are suitably adorned with some Dundo stickers.
The lack of food and intake of beer soon tells and we decide to make a tactical withdrawal to go get a train homeward. This leads to a scattering of the group, as some head for the underground and the rest of us, thinking it was closed and not usable set off for Blackfriars. And Mr X is adamant he's getting an Uber home. Eventually, we realise we're not going to make Blackfriars in time and instead hit London Bridge for a train back to East Croydon. Around this point, I become the tiredest man in the world, no doubt due to the intake of beer and lack of food. So when we get back to Croydon, I leave Dukey and the Cheam Village chapter to sort themselves out a cab and stumble onto a 410 that takes me back to HQ.
It takes about 30 seconds to get in the door, shed my jacket and shoes before hitting the mattress to producing copious amounts of Z's where I go on to dream sweet dreams of not having to go back to Canvey Island again next week.