When Aldershot returned to the Football League in May 2008, storming through the Blue Square Premier with a record number of points it not only became the only football club in England that I had never seen play at home (as opposed to not have visited the stadium as Shrewsbury, Swansea and Colchester are still to be ticked off the list), BUT it was also the only Football League pitch that I had actually played on.
Back in day when I was a young promising winger with Maidstone United I played in a pre-season friendly at the Recreation Ground, when Aldershot were just about to start on their long journey back up the non-league Pyramid. I was to go on to play games at Cambridge’s Abbey Stadium, Plough Lane in Wimbledon and the old Manor Ground in Oxford all of which are now either non-League grounds or non-existent. In this particular game I played a blinder….in the warm up! As soon as the game started the ball spent most of the time on the left hand side, so I started drifting in to find some action, only to leave the Aldershot maruding left bank to make a break, beat our offside trap and score the only goal of the game. What made it worse was I was heckled for the first time in my career. “Oi! Number 7 you can’t beat my Grandma!” On the contrary my good fellow I could quite easily hit her with a free kick from 30 yards!
So on a day when in normal circumstances I would have been travelling across Europe to watch my beloved country play I found myself in military Hampshire watching Aldershot take on Darlington. Before October last year I had not missed an England away game for nearly 4 years. I chose not to visit Moscow, wary of the trouble that would surround the game; Trinidad and Tobago due to the reasons why the game was held and our fixture against Andorra that was for no reason apart from the greed of the Andorran’s going to be played in the slum that is Barcelona. As soon as the game was announced I made my intentions very clear and instead planned a weekend of fun for the little Fullers and some football for me.
After a morning at the hell that was Legoland with the crowds and the pouring rain I headed off with Lolly to Aldershot. The ground is slap bang in the middle of the town centre and so parking was a doddle. The reason why it was a doddle was because the town centre looked like it was used by the Royal Engineers based in the town for manouvres. It had its own Shopping Trolley modern art, although I don’t think the pile that had been made outside the multi story car park were more down to the fact that it was the landing spot from the top floor.
We headed off to the stadium, and paid what I believe to be an outrageous price for Division Two football. £28 for an adult and a child is in my opinion a rip off. I have already this season seen a number of clubs in the lower leagues and this was by far the most expensive. £10 for a 8 year old is not value for money when you compare it to other forms of entertainment. To make matters worse the Chairman used the programme as a soap box to bemoan the fact that crowds were not flocking to the stadium since their promotion. Well Mr McGinty, try lowering the prices that will encourage young families to come watch games here instead of getting on the fans backs.
The game itself was very similar to the Rotherham game from two weeks previous. A cracking first half where Aldershot could have easily scored a dozen if it was not for some excellent goalkeeping, yet a defensive lapse in the last minute of the second half saw Darlington to pull the score back to 2-1.
The second half was quite dull. Lolly found more enjoyment from watching the trains pass by the stand opposite, whilst I tried my best to dodge the revels being thrown at me from a couple of brats sitting a few rows behind us. The rain continued to fall heavily and it was more of an opportunity when it stopped as to when we left. Of course we chose the moment which could be referred to the eye of the storm, so as soon as we left the safety of the “Indigo Press Stand (North)” the rain started again, soaking us through.
Definitely better than an afternoon in Andorra or Legoland though.