It’s been an easy week at TBIR Towers. Easy because I haven’t been there. I’ve been a few thousand miles away beavering away in New York, suffering as usual from chronic jet lag. I’ve become so much of a friend to Mr. 3AM that I even went out for a run. That is how bad it’s been – running around Battery Park at 6am with other sad, depressive, obsessive insomniacs. The view from my 24th floor hotel window of the World Trade Center is impressive, but hardly moves at the pace I needed to keep me interested.
The other issue with time zones is you are never really sure what is going on in the old of football and when. The Champions League simply passed me by this week with Real Madrid almost certainly booking their Champions League Final 2013 tickets, whilst important scores in the Ryman Premier failed to make it onto my radar. As if I needed to really check anyway. I mean Cray Wanderers were hardly likely to go to play-off chasing Bury Town and win, were they? And Thurrock’s chances of anything at title-chasing Lowestoft Town were as slim as Kate Moss. So landing at Heathrow n the early hours was. Rude awakening as I checked the scores on my phone. Mr Relegation was well and truly on the A27.
Alas the delay in my return trip (thanks UK Border control for not having enough people working at T5 to cope with the inbound flights!) meant that I wasn’t able to join the legions of the Lewes Lunatic Fringe on the Road To Wembley where Hendon, themselves a perennial relegation candidate, were already tucked up safe and sound for the season. Perhaps they will have already packed their bags for their summer trip to Clacton, meaning the Rooks would return from Middlesex with three points. We can but hope.
For me, my fun was going to be found a bit closer to home. I was dropping down into the Kent Premier League. Potentially, Lewes could be playing against one of the teams currently fighting it out at the top of the league. Current leaders Erith & Belvedere were all set for the next step up, ground sharing with Welling United. Second-placed VCD have been in the Ryman League a few years ago, holding their own too before a ludicrous ground grading decision saw them forcibly relegated (ridiculous considering a recent decision given in favour of another certain Ryman League team anyway). Tunbridge Wells, finalists in the FA Vase in 4 weeks time, carrying the hopes of a County with them, have a minimum of 3 games a week from now until the end of the season as a reward for being successful in the cup.
But my destinations were straight down Watling Way, the Roman Road that allowed those Roman cricket fans to travel down to Canterbury, or Durovernum Cantiacorum as it was known in those days. I was going to see a game on either side of the Medway, the aquatic barrier separating the Men of Kent from the Kentish Man.
Despite having Gillingham on the doorstep, Charlton Athletic running coaches on every matchday from the Medway towns and the new non league giants of Maidstone United just at the bottom of Bluebell Hill, Rochester United and Lordswood continue to slowly make progress on and off the pitch. Rochester were the club formerly known as Bly Spartans, formed by a Geordie with a lisp. The club was only formed 30 years ago, and slowly made up the leagues until they were invited to take part in the inaugural Kent Invicta League in 2010. Last season they were crowned champions of that league and moved into the top-level of the county game for the start of this season.
Lordswood’s development is a few years ahead of Rochester’s. They joined the Kent League back in 1996. For the last few seasons they have struggled at the lower end of the able, but the expansion of the league from 12 to 16 teams has given the club fresh motivation. This season they have done something they have never done before, reaching a senior cup final for the first time (where they will be playing Tunbridge Wells next Sunday) and reaching the 4th round of the FA Vase where they eventually lost to finalists Spennymoor Town.
Rochester United 0 Corinthian 3 – Rochester Sports Ground – Saturday 6th April 2013
The visitors Corinthian were never really troubled in this game, as the frustration of Rochester manager Glen Barlow was all to obvious. “You are a f#cking d!ckhead” he shouted at one point during the first half towards the referee. With no more than thirty people watching the game it is hard to excuse either the outburst, or the officials who didn’t hear it (I was on the other side of pitch and heard it). He had little to complain about. Corinthian bossed the first half of this game on a pitch that played as if we had had weeks of hot weather. However, it was a set piece that led to the opening goal in the tenth minute when Alfie May tapped home from a corner, with the home side distracted by the centre-back’s huge afro.
The Rochester Sports Ground is really no more than a Sunday League pitch with a small stand on one side. Floodlights have been installed enabling them to play at this level, but significant work needs to take place to bring them up to a standard where they could apply for promotion to the Ryman League. This is a real issue for the Kent FA. They want to comply with the FA’s request to have a 20 team County League (currently there are only 16 teams in the league) but there aren’t enough teams with facilities in the county who could compete. In fact there are rumours that Crowborough and Rye, both in Sussex, may switch across to the Kent League. In some way it is a mark of their success, with 8 teams playing in the Ryman League South (plus still Chatham Town in the North) but it is hard to see who else can make the step up. So Rochester United’s facilities are less of a concern than they would be in other regions.
Two late goals sealed a comfortable win for Corinthian, and their impressive season continued. But what was happening on the other side of the Medway?
Lordswood 1 Canterbury City 0 – Martyn Grove – Saturday 6th April 2013
I came across the existence of Lordswood a few years ago. The club is in the constituency of football mad Tory MP Tracey Crouch and she had mentioned them to me when I interviewed her back in October 2011 so I started following them on Twitter. Through one of those bizarre off-beat conversations one day I found out that the man behind their Twitter feed, Paul Caulfield, had once won a date with Joanne Guest. He was my hero after that moment, and a soft spot had been developed for the club. But this was my first visit to Martyn Grove, located in a leafy part on the edge of the Medway Towns.
The game was scoreless when I arrived, with neither team testing the respective keepers. It was certainly a homely little ground, with one smallish covered stand, although for the real ground-hoppers out there (remember I AM NOT A GROUNDHOPPER!) they will be disappointed to hear that you cannot walk around the far end of the ground, so no swapping ends at half time.
Lordswood looked the much stronger of the two sides, and it was no surprise when Rob Norman put them in the lead on the hour mark from close range when the away team defenders seemed to go walkabout. Canterbury had a great shout for a penalty in the 70th minute, but the referee decided that the player went to ground too easily (I heard him tell the Canterbury Physio this as he was treating the offended player).
So another three points for Lordswood, and their best ever season simply gets better and better. They can now look forward to the Kent Senior Trophy Final against Tunbridge Wells next Sunday, a game which probably wouldn’t require you to buy your Tickets at Ticketbis! Certainly in these parts, the future is bright, the future is Orange (and black).
Back to reality then and the continuing fight against Ryman Premier League relegations…sigh.