The FA Cup. The world’s oldest footballing competition and until last year, something we’d began to fall out of love with a little. Then, like the rest of the country, we decided to go all ‘retro’ & relive the 80’s. In our case that involved going a bit mental knocking out 3 FL sides on the way to making the 5th Round, playing Arsenal at GGL and winding up swimming in so much cash even Scrooge McDuck was asking to pop round and use our pool.
There was a downside to all this fame & fortune of course. The Sunbets deal, followed by Mr Shaw’s unfortunate ‘pie bantz’ meaning a little of the gloss was removed as we took a lot of shit from the great and good on social media. Still, that’s all yesterday’s news right? With the 4th Qual draw giving us an interesting trip to pastures new this season, surely we’d be all properly sniffly with Cup Fever once again! Right? RIGHT?
Er, not entirely. Whilst the draw was admittedly a refreshingly interesting one, giving us Southern League Div 1 side Paulton Town away (new ground, new oppo, just what we like!), there were still minor complications and once more we found ourselves being roundly slated by bell ends with no idea what the fuck they were talking about. The reason this time we’d become public enemy number one to the Twatterati? Well, it seems the BBC fancied having our game as their featured ‘live stream’ on their website, which you can kind of understand. We were still a bit of a story after last year’s shenanigans and Paulton have had a slow start in the league, but performed well in the cup. So it was a bit of tables turned, the hunter becomes the hunted and all that jazz. Fair play, we can see that. There was one slight problem though. We said no to the live game.
Naturally, the jizznami of indignation from cunts who think having done Non-League Day the once and made several lame jokes about Shaw and the pie last season makes them bona fide experts on the day to day running of Sutton United FC, was not long in engulfing our official account. Spouting bollocks like we’re arrogant and ‘only interested in the money’ apparently (despite the fact that by saying no, we’d actually turned our noses up at a thousand quid).
Now, don’t get me wrong. I did feel a bit sorry for the hosts. It would have been a nice little windfall for them and made the tie a bit of an occasion for ’em. Lovely stuff. Our problem with all this was that the 4th Qualifying draw had been made at 1pm on the Monday afternoon. And yet the FA & BBC didn’t get in touch with the club until late on the Wednesday, more than 48hours later, about moving the kick off to the required 12:30 slot. Transport and other arrangements were already long booked and paid for. Christ, even we’d already bought our train tickets down already! And if we’re more organised than the national footballing body and the state broadcaster, there’s a fucking problem. Of course, when Haringey Boro announced on Friday that they too had turned down the opportunity of the live coverage due to ‘too late notice from the FA\BBC’ none of the cock ends coating us off were anywhere to be seen. Odd that.
So, a 3pm kick off it was to be. And thank god it was as in the end GWR decided with almost BBC\FA-esque timing that they’d really like to dig up most of the line from Paddington to Bath that precise weekend. Cheers lads. And when that happens, we get to hear the three words no football fan trying to get to a game in the middle of nowhere wants to hear.
Bus. Replacement. Service.
As has been mentioned here fairly recently, we’re not doing fucking buses. Let alone ones replacing fucking trains to the middle of fucking nowhere. So we took a look and instead decided to get a ridiculously early service off Clapham, hit Salisbury and head to Bath from there. So, thanks to this act of stupidity, I found myself awakened on a Saturday morning some 45 minutes before I would be for a working day. I’m out the door at 10 past 6 and straight onto a bus. 15 mins later, I’m wandering into East Croydon station and feeling smug as I should be in Clapham a good 30 mins before our train to Salisbury departs. That smugness doesn’t last of course as the boards soon tell me that there are almost no trains running into Victoria for some reason. The 42 past is running 30 mins late and the 58 won’t get there until almost half past. All I’m left with is the .53 and a hope it too doesn’t get delayed along the way. Or I’m royally fucked.
Still, it could be worse, I could be Steve! He’s overslept a little and left his gaff to find there’s not only a huge wait for a tram but that the bus that was due a couple of minutes later has also just magically disappeared. So he’s left with no other option than to go seriously old school and jog it. On his way in, he requests I get him a bottle of water and in obliging this request I’m treated to an angry South African man berating the lass behind the jump as she won’t accept his old one pound coins in payment for his latte. His cries of “But they’re legal tender!” go unheeded and I instead push in front to pay for Steve’s water whilst he deals with his fiscally based tantrum. A sweaty and very out of breath Steve just makes the train and thankfully with no more delays, we’re soon on platform 9 at Clapham awaiting the rest of the gang.
Unfortunately, the train that arrives is made up of a barely adequate 3 carriages and it’s already properly busy. Yep, you guessed it, we’re standing near the khazis again! Things empty out a little at Basingstoke allowing a few more of us to get seats, but for the majority of the party were left standing for the best part of an hour and a half all told. Things are no better as we roll into our destination either as the connecting service has been cancelled so we’ve now 45 minutes to kill here in Salisbury. Naturally, we leg it the several mins down the road to the local Spoons and smash back a pint whilst catching up with a load of the Welling mob who are on a similarly arse about face route down to their league game at Weston today.
Pints sunk, we dart back and find another shitty 3 carriage rattler awaiting us for the next leg and like the last one, it’s packed. So we once more spend the next hour standing up as we wind our way towards Bath Spa. To make matters worse, the heating is on full bore so we’re all soon sweating like Harvey Weinstein in the company of a new intern as well. Lovely. Still, we get to see what must be one of the smallest stations we’ve ever seen in Dilton Marsh, which has platforms so small they make the Shoebox look like the bloody Kop. Eventually though, this painful journey finally ends and we spill out onto the platform at Bath Spa gasping for air. Right, we need a pint!
Next job is to locate Mr X. He’d headed down early to visit friends last night and was treated to Bristol City against Burton Albion, a 0-0 draw he would later describe as ‘truly fucking shocking’. A quick call finds him located in the Lamb & Flag and we head there for some nosh and a couple of pints. With a local minibus booked as transport out into the wilds of Somerset for the final leg, we next head to the Trinity as it’s near the pickup point. Here we run into the Chelmsford mob, who are in town as they’re playing Bath today, just getting stuck into their starter pints. Be rude not to join them really! So we catch up and watch a bit more of the mind numbingly tedious Liverpool Manyoo game on telly. But shortly after 1, the call comes and we stumble outside to our transport. We then spend the next 20 minutes or so winding our way out into the depths of the English countryside. Mr X is stuck up front with the driver, who gives him a guided tour of all the ‘sights’, whilst in the back we all sit reciting lines from ‘Hot Fuzz’ and giggling like naughty schoolkids. Along the way, we see signs for Midsomer, the sleepy village that ITV depicted as having a murder rate higher than Detroit in the late 1980’s and also get stuck behind a tractor. What fun.
As we arrive in Paulton, the driver makes a small wrong turn just before the ground at a little green. Sitting on a bench on this patch of grass is someone who looks strangely familiar. No, surely that can’t be Dirty Barry?? Luckily, our U-turn to correct the mistake gives us a second chance to confirm that this is indeed the Shoebox’s foremost adult leisure expert. We all wave and the driver seems somewhat amused and intrigued by the fact we know someone called ‘Dirty Barry’. A minute or two later, we’re at Paulton’s Winterfield Road and admiring their rather plush clubhouse whilst supping a pint. On the telly, SKY’s big over hyped Scouse\Mancs clash predictably finishes 0-0. Which makes the utterly overbearing OMGBESTGAMEINTHEWORLDEVER!! hype beforehand somewhat amusing and a little bit sad.
Butler, Thomas, John, Collins, Cadogan, Dundas, Eastmond, Bailey, Wright, Walton, Taylor SUBS: Davis, Coombes, Spence, Emmanuel, Jeffrey, Downer, Brown
Out for kick off, we find the ground is a tight little affair, with a classic NL box stand on one side, some nice raised covered standing at the clubhouse end, some cover down the touchline and what looks to be a large, unusual looking hill behind the far end (a spoil heap perhaps? This part of Somerset was a big coal mining area in the 1800’s after all). The hosts are obviously keen as they get off to a bright start playing down the slope, forcing Bailey to head away from a dangerous ball in early doors. But we’re soon on the front foot ourselves and after Easty and Cadogan have both had efforts just wide, Craig splits the defence after about 10 minutes, sending Cadogan in behind and he deftly lifts the ball over the keeper to give us the lead. Lovely stuff, nerves settled. Now let’s go and see this off lads!
Or, alternatively, we could just not mark up from their first corner several minutes later and leave their lad to spank one home from about 10 yards for the equaliser if you’d prefer. Yeah, fuck it, do that. It’ll make it more exciting for the neutrals and stuff. Sakes.
Having levelled, the first half is mostly both sides battling it out. The hosts trying to ensure that we get nothing for free and us trying to ensure no mistakes present any more gifts and put them firmly on the front foot. The only moments of interest are their number 10 trying to see what he can get away with in trying to wind up various people in Yellow shirts before he gets booked. And as we have a National League ref today, the answer is ‘quite a lot’. There is also a big shout for a peno for us, but of course Mr Competence in the middle gives nowt, so eventually the half ends and we go in all square. Could be worse I suppose. At least we’re going downhill for the 2nd 45.
We wander down to the far end, which unlike the other one is completely devoid of any sort of elevation or roof and await the restart. Once underway, with the lads now kicking down the slope, this seems to allow us to get the ball down a bit more and test the hosts with our pace up top. This approach pays off a couple of minutes in when the keeper slips taking a kick and the ball hits Taylor in midfield. He immediately feeds Tommy Wright wide and having darted to the bye line, Tom pulls the ball back for Cadogan to double his tally, rifling in from about 8 yards out. Typically though, any thought that this might finally burst the Paulton bubble are misplaced as we fail to deal with another corner immediately after and the ball is hacked off the line at the near post. Our nerves are settled further just before the hour however, some pressure down the left earns a throw, there’s a quick exchange of passes and Aswad has space to swing in a great cross that Louis John does well to get his nut on and power a header back across goal and in to make it 3-1. That should be it, surely??
From there, Dundo and Cadogan should probably put the game completely to bed, but one shoots against the legs of the keeper and the other is denied his hat-trick when a shot through a crowd of players pigs off the far post. Still, no bother eh, we’re doing fi….oh for gods sake! A little under 15 to go and a high ball is swung into the box from deep. Butler comes to claim but he’s always stretching and having to come through a small crowd to claim, he ends up crashing back to earth still at full stretch causing the ball to pop loose. Their sub, who has literally only just joined the fray gets to the ball first and prods goal-wards. Sadly JC can’t get back in time and it trundles in off the post. 100 yards away, a couple of hundred people check their watches, curse under their breath and hope we can see things out. Fortunately, despite being thrown this lifeline, Paulton just can’t quite find another gear to build up a head of steam up the slope towards the final whistle to really pressure us and the only real incident of note is the knobby number 10 finally going into the book for one bit of shithousery too many and we see out the game without any fuss. We’re through!
After a couple of swift post match beers in the cosy clubhouse, our transport back to civilisation appears and we once more pile aboard. This time, we give the driver the honour of Dukey’s company up front which turns out to a work of genius on our part. “So, this Dirty Barry fella then….” he enquires before we’ve even pulled out of the driveway. We chuckle knowing the flat capped one will have this more than covered and go back to throwing about our best Hot Fuzz lines. A rapid dash later and we’ve decided that rather than hang about we’re going for the half 6 train out of Bath, which given the earlier nightmare journey is probably wise on our part. We grab a couple of cans each for the trip and hit the station, intending to stock up properly in Salisbury as we’ll have almost an hours wait there. Of course, as the predictably busy & tiny train rolls in, we find ourselves staring through the glass at some familiar faces. It seems we’ll have the company of the Welling hordes again on the way back. Lucky them!
Of course, we’re once more stood up again all the way back to bloody Salisbury where we then hit 2 pubs, leaving both immediately as they’re shite and find something more suitable down the road for a couple of swifties before we order up some pizzas and all jump on the train back to Clapham. Here we mostly clutter the place up with the Welling bods, scoff Dominos and light heartedly try to corrupt a young public schoolboy who’s had the misfortune to get stuck in the same carriage with us. Still, he’s a good lad and despite the best efforts of scumbag Non-League reprobates to sway him from the path of learning and other respectable traits to a life of beer and shit football, he remains on the straight and narrow. Eventually though, it’s time to bid farewell to our travelling companions and we stumble off at Junction leaving nothing but hilarity and a faint smell of pepperoni in our wake. Until we meet again you Kent wankers!
Here, with just 17 quid left in the whip and everyone now starting to flag at the end of a very long day, we elect to go our separate ways back to our humble abodes. Steve and I head back to East Croydon and the rest of the gang make for the slow train back to the Republic and its environs. A short while later, I’m bidding Steve a good evening outside East Croydon station and heading for a bus home which deposits me outside HQ a mere 17hours after I’d left it. Crossing the road, I think to myself that I really must remember to turn off my alarm when I get indoors, as if that wakes me up at 5:30 on a Sunday I’m not going to be a fucking happy bunny.
And nor would Mrs Taz come to think of it. Especially not Mrs Taz in fact.