SUTTON UNITED – 1 [Harford 58]
HEREFORD UNITED – 1 [James 82]
When I first started watching the U’s aged 10, now some 15 years ago, I believed like any child does that my team would win every week. Of course they didn’t. Ah, the innocence of youth! Kids, they really are stupid eh?
Now aged a stately and serene 25, I’m of course a touch more realistic about stuff. Having seen most of our pre-season programme, I have to admit to having had serious doubts about our first game back in the Conference. The euphoria of winning the league had worn off and I had to face cold hard facts.
Here we were going into a league utterly different to the one we left 8 years ago. The Conference now contains several full-time sides, one of who were our visitors on the opening day. And having seen some of our defending pre-season, I’ve gotta be honest, I thought we’d get fecking slaughtered! But yesterday at GGL, 11 blokes in Choccie ‘n’ Amber proved me very, very wrong. OK so we didn’t exactly match our full-time opponents blow for blow the whole afternoon, but we certainly gave ‘em a bloody good run for their money and very nearly sent ‘em back to Herefordshire with sod all.
The visitors brought the promised 5-600 fans and made the ground look at least a bit full for our first game back in the big time for almost a decade. Meanwhile, the turn out from the inhabitants of Sutton was, to be frank, shite. Where were you all? Oh, I’m sorry I forgot. No 7 million quid Italian forwards on display. Fine. If you people would rather pay yer 50 quid for your Chelsea/Liverpool/Man Utd shirts that’s your business. But you missed a bloody cracking game of football in a decent little atmosphere. Entry fee? 7 pounds to you squire. Fucking bargain that.
The boys appeared in our now familiar quarters, but with a bloody great badge on the chest (About time an’all!!) and a fetching ‘Nationwide’ strip ironed on the sleeve. Ha! We’re really back aren’t we?
The game gets underway with the U’s attacking the Rec end where the Hereford fans are massed and up on the Shoebox, we await the onslaught. 10 minutes in and we’re still waiting. 15 minutes gone, still waiting. Hang On. They’re actually letting us play! We’re an unknown quantity, they’re feeling us out, seeing what we’ve got. Okey Dokey, fair enough, this is what we got! 20 odd minutes in and Colin Simpson, who’s causing their rearguard some discomfort in the air, gets free in the box. We hold our breath, he shoots. The effort beats the ‘keeper but just sneaks past the far post. Bloody hell! We’ve just had the best chance of the match! This Conference lark might not be quite so hard after all…
A couple of minutes later a Jimmy Dack free kick is whipped in towards the back post. New signing Mackie, throws himself at the ball but he can only get a glancing contact and the chance is gone. The visitors defenders stand there in the aftermath of this latest let off and look at each other as if to say “OK lads, no more pissing about now” But continue to piss about they do. Colin Simpson and Mark Watson continue to harry and chase everything up top, Dacky and Harlow are a constant source of annoyance in Midfield and even Andy Salako is causing problems down the right, also working his arse off chasing everything possible. The boys at the back are dealing capably with everything being chucked at ‘em so far, especially Mr Mackie, who’s having an absolute stormer.
Winning every header and every tackle. A few more opportunities arise, but nothing clear cut. We on the terraces are beaming with pride, the boys are battling like bastards. If only we could snatch a goal, give us something to hold on to. Just before Half time, we’re given a reminder it’s not that easy after all as the U’s have their only worrying moment. The outstanding Mackie receives a nasty cut in an aerial encounter and has to go off for treatment. Paul Harford drops in at centre back and United play out the last 5 minutes of the half with 10 men. But still the visitors can’t break through and create anything of note.
Half time reveals that Woking are 2-0 down at Southport and K’s are 1-0 down at Telford. Bugger me, we’re No1 in Surrey at the mo!!! As if to again remind us it’s not all sunshine and dasies, the heavens promptly open and it starts to piss with rain. The downpour is sufficient to force us to abandon the open steps of the Shoebox and head for cover.
To our relief, Mackie re-emerges with the team for the second half, his head bandaged Terry Butcher style. The half starts and we wait for the visitors to step up a gear. They’ve let us have a go and now they’ll show us. But again, they just….don’t. We keep working hard and Hereford just don’t seem to have a cutting edge. Certainly not one we’ve actually seen yet. Sure, they look dangerous going forwards, but their moves seem to break down around our penalty area thanks to a final ball and we clear the danger.
Then comes the moment we’d been praying for. Breakthrough! A Dacky/Harlow corner is sent to the back post and Mackie (Who else? I just love this bloke already!!) outjumps his marker and powers in a header, it’s in?? NO!! It’s nodded off the line by a defender and a scramble ensues. The ‘keeper is desperately trying to grab hold of the ball, whilst his defence are trying to get a boot on it and send it hurtling to safety. They only succeed in scuffing it into the path of Paul Harford, who brings an end to the melee and stabs the ball into the net. YEEEESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS!!!!! The Bulls rearguard look on in disbelief and the travelling support, most of which is now sheltering in the stand from the constant rain, goes silent.
We grin the grin of smug bastards. Think of the most smug bastard you know, grinning like he’s just won the lottery. That’s how smug the grin was on our boat races. I can’t believe it, only little more than an hour ago, I was seriously contemplating a hiding of 4-0 proportions, but here we are actually in front. Winning. Jesus christ!!
Once our delight has subsided, that little pessimistic voice in the back of our minds returns. “That’ll spark ‘em off, just you watch”. And Hereford do start to go about things with a bit more urgency now they’re behind to our part-time scuffers, but again the boys respond, all hands on deck stylee. Even Colin Simpson is piling back to help defend at corners. The visitors chuck on all of their 3 subs to try and save the game. For us. Sammy Winston appears and replaces Mark Watson.
Winston’s pace very nearly brings us a second goal shortly after. He breaks down the left and delivers a low ball across the box. Unfortunately Colin Simpson can’t reach it in the centre and the chance is gone. Another let off for the visitors. And then just as we’re starting to look at watches and wonder how long left, the moment that little voice had been warning of arrives. Just 8 minutes from an amazing victory. A Hereford attack wins them a corner. It’s delivered to the near post and is flicked on. Despite the attentions of Mackie and Simpson, Jones stretches and manages to nod the ball inside the post. Ah knackers.
The visiting hoardes erupt and the goalscorer celebrates like he’s just bagged the winner at Wembley. Either he doesn’t get many, or he was displaying an enormous amount of relief at having bagged one they’ve barely deserved. Of course, now level, Hereford now have their most dangerous period of the game as they surge forward looking for an undeserved winner. Again our boys respond. Although most of them are now clearly shagged out from the effort already given in taking the game to our full-time pro oppo. It’s not one way traffic and we break forward on the odd occasion, even winning a couple of corners, but we’ve given our all and in the end a winner is just beyond us.
The final whistle is warmly greeted and the boys trudge off with what is a fantastically hard won point. I don’t think I’ve ever been this happy with a point for quite some time. We hit the bar to find out Woking have got mullered 4-1 and K’s have gone down 1-0. So, we’re Surrey’s top team eh? Lovely! Also worth a mention is Yeovil’s 5-0 hiding at Scarborough. Oh dear. Long way home that lads.
In the pub a little later partaking in many satisfactory result beers, SKY flashes up the Conference table. Another thing we;ll have to get used to this season. We sit proudly in 12th. That happy grin I mentioned earlier re-appears. Oh well, only another 41 games to go. If they’re anything like this, I might just enjoy the season.
Next stop, Forest Green. And yes, we do finally know where it is. Thanks for asking.
MAN OF THE MATCH : John Mackie. Fucking Superb.
ENTERTAINMENT : 9. An excellent game all round.
TEAM : Howells, Brooker, Skelly, Berry, Mackie, Harlow, Dack, Harford, Simpson, Watson(76), Salako SUBS: Winston(76), Rowlands, Ekoku, Little