The Road to Wembley with thunder and lightning….

The Ball is Round
The Ball is Round

A weeks ago the road to Wembley started for this season.  Just 76 days after Chelsea lifted the trophy at Wembley Stadium, this seasons competition kicked off with Flackwell Heath of the Futbol Hellenic Premier Division beating Welwyn Garden City 4-0.  The Heathens, as they are known were the first club in the draw for the Preliminary Round, along with such teams as Bemerton Heath Harlequins, Chessington & Hook United (winning the battle of the Theme Parks with Chertsey Town), West Allotment Celtic and AFC Wulfrunians.  Some of the unlucky losing teams included Cadbury Athletic, Pilkingston XXX (no relation to Castlemaine XXXX) and ruining their dream of a local day out, Wembley.  At this stage of the competition, the games are regionalised and so the draw often throws up some local interest such as the games between Kidlington (home of Richard Branson) and Abingdon Town (home of Bernie Eccleston) or South Shields versus Newcastle Benfield.

The second round, officially called the Preliminary Round was drawn on Monday 17th August, and games were to be played across the whole of the Bank Holiday weekend, meaning a groundhoppers paradise.  Every year I say I would do the Road to Wembley, following a team until they got knocked out, and then their victors until the final.  It never happens though.  Last season I started in the final qualifying round with Grays, but a draw against Carlisle United away put pay to that project!  This season I missed the Extra Qualifying round, but drew a winning team out of the hat to follow…so step forward Brimsdown Rovers.  Whilst they may sound like a team more likely to be playing Melchester Rovers under the leadership of Roy Race, they have actually been around for over 60 years and currently play in Spartan South Midlands League.

Now I am confused.  I have looked into their formation, and their website says:-

“The Club was formed just after World War II in 1947 by a number of Geordies following a merger with a club called Durham Rovers.

The Club’s colours have always been the famous black and white stripes of Newcastle United, whilst in the early days their change of strip saw the red and white stripes of Sunderland in use, to keep everyone happy! As with Newcastle United, its mascot has also always been a magpie.

Playing on the local playing fields, the Club entered the Enfield Football Alliance and in the first season were joint winners of Divsion One, were runners-up in the Premier Division for the next two seasons as well as winning the League Cup in 1948/49.”

So the above suggests that they were originally played in the North East, yet now someone moved to Enfield?

Well what is clear is that they play, as the crow flies, just 10 miles from Wembley Stadium in a smart little 3,000 capacity stadium.  Whilst they have held their own at this level for many a season, there is always a dream that this year will be the year in the cup.  Their best every performance was in 1992 when they reached the Third Qualifying Round, losing in a replay to Chesham Town.

Dan had been keen on the idea of a Friday night game, with his girlfriend doing damage to his credit card in New York he was footloose and fancy free, although he rarely needs an excuse for a game.  Lolly was also allowed to come, having helped out with the concrete smashing on the old drive during the day (some children want sweets or toys as a treat, Lolly wants to go to football – what a difficult child!).  a short hop, skip and a jump around the North Circular to EN3 saw us at the once home of David Beckham (he played here when he was in his early teens) as cup fever swept North London.  OK – the 70-odd other fans seemed pretty excited, even if most were related to the players in some way.  The game had been moved to the Friday night to on Police advice as both Enfield Town and Enfield 1893 were due to play on the Saturday (OK – not strictly true but Enfield Town actually share Brimsdown’s ground!) which suited us fine.  What didn’t suit us fine was the localised thunderstorm that only seemed to be affecting EN3.  Thanks to my brand new SatNav, which for some reason likes to occasionally try and direct you across a railway line using a foot bridge, or to turn right across a dual carriageway with a central reservation we got there eventually, but the weather was a tad of a concern.

The ground had a clubshop attached so we sought cover from the rain in the bar.  We were allowed in the members bit of the bar, whilst the normal general public had to make do with Racey’s cafe bar next door, which was packed with families enjoying a night out, Enfield style.  We left it until 5 minutes before kick off to make a run for it, paying out £5 to have a slice of FA Cup history (free for Lolly as the bloke gave us a tale about lifting children over turnstiles at White Hart Lane after the War).  Dan was gutted to find that all of the programmes had sold out – could this mean a record crowd?

Brimsdown Rovers 2 Fleckwell Heath 4 – Goldsdown Road – Friday 28th August 2009

The teams emerge to a fanfare
The teams emerge to a fanfare

The teams were just emerging from the “tunnel” in the corner of the pitch, with the home team accompanied by 11 mascots a la Champions League style.  A line up in front of the main stand and then we were off.  We started to walk around the pitch to the other side, to take up residence behind the dugouts for amusement purposes.  Behind the one “open” end stood a lonely character, with wild unkept hair…could this be?  Yes it was the non-league groundhopping legend, Wolfie.  This guy spends every waking minute going from ground to ground in the UK at all levels but can only count his visit if he touches the ball.  Having the whole end to himself surely meant he would be able to tick this one off quickly?  Well in the 2nd minute the ball bounced over the advertising hording and he set off.  Only Dan was nearer, and Dan knew nothing of the legend so returned the ball to the keeper, much to the Wolf’s annoyance! (he only had to wait a few more minutes before he got his touch, the notebook came out and he was a happy, yet still deranged man)

The pitch was in a right old state.  The ground was so dry and the white lines had been washed away by the storm, meaning it was almost impossible to see where the penalty area started, or when a ball went out to touch.  Being so close to the action we could see how the tactics were being relayed by the respective benches.  “Brimmo, level pegging”, “Eyes wide open” and “use the empty space” were some of the confusing few instructions in the first few minutes.

The game was a classic.  Six goals, some pretty fierce tackling, some appalling refereeing, some excellent sledging of the linesman and the obligatory substitutes needing to have a piss against the side of the pitch lead to a great evening’s entertainment.  Fleckwell were the better team, and it was surprising that they were twice pegged back after taking the head, especially the 2nd Brimsdown equalizer that was a clearance that cannoned off a home player on the edge of the box then took a wicked spin on its first bounce that completely foxed the keeper.  But two late goals by Flackwell Heath saw them score four for the second round in the row and process into the hat for the 1st round of qualifying.  The referee seemed to be issuing cards for fun and nobody, including the official match reporter could work out who had actually been cautioned.  His linesman got a ticking off for not bothering to wait for a player to leave the field before sending on a substitute, but not as nearly enough when he allowed Brimsdown’s first goal to stand where at least two players were clearly offside, and a handball occurred in front of his nose.

But football the world over doesn’t change.  We had a few chav’s in the stand behind the goal, we had would-be footballer’s wives with a glow of orange from their fake tan only normally seen in a Tango add, and the customary slag-tag tattoos. We had passion, we had substitute numbers carried around in a Tesco’s bag f9r life and for some reason we had orange balls! Yes the “snow balls” were for some reason used, and Lolly liked the look of them.  Acting as ball boy behind the shed we were standing in on one occasion she came back empty handed, only to tell us that she had “hidden” the ball for later.  I pointed out that that would be theft and sent her away with a flee in her ear – cheek of the young generation these days (good idea though!).

So 762 teams enter the cup ever year, but will there be a better game than this?  Almost certainly, but for £5 on a Friday night you will be hard pressed to find one that is as value for money.  Dan and Brian had been at the laugh a minute West Ham versus Millwall game on Tuesday night, where a 3-1 win for the Hammers had apparently got in the way of a perfectly good fight (“I paid £40 for my ticket and my evening was ruined watching 22 blokes play a football match in the middle of the fight” one fan was reported saying) and it was good for them to get back to some normality.  Lolly got to experience real grassroots football and was able to add some new words into her list of  “Don’t say to Mummy that word”, and I was able to think that I could manage a football team at this level – after all some of my inspirational and motivational team meetings would confuse and baffle the best of footballers – thus making me qualified?  Bromley, onwards!!!

About Goldsdown Road
As you would imagine at this level the ground is basic.  The playing area is massive, with a couple of metres between the touchline and the fences.  There are three small stands, one with seats that runs almost from penalty area to penalty area with four rows, and two small covered terraces behind one goal and then behind the dugouts.  The club has a bar and a cafe by the one set of turnstiles.  There is certainly room to expand should the need arise.

How to get to Goldsdown Road
The ground is at the end of a residential street (Goldsdown Road) in the heart of EN3, north London.  From the north circular (A406) head north along the Meridian Way at Angel Road.  When you eventually get to the big roundabout with Lee Valley Road go straight over.  Follow this road until you get to a roundabout with a McDonalds on your left hand side.  Turn left and over the level crossing (Brimsdown railway station and then take the 2nd right into Goldsdown Road.

From the M25 leave at junction 25 and head south on the A10.  When you get to the junction with the A110 turn left and follow this until you reach the roundabout with the A1055 Mollison Avenue, then turn left and follow directions above.

Brimsdown railway station is a 5 minute walk from the ground and is served on a regular basis by trains from Liverpool Street, with a journey time of 20 minutes.

How to get a ticket for Goldsdown Road
It’s all pay on the door as you would image and just £5 for Adults and £1 if they do decide to charge you for children.

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