Saturday 5th December 12pm KO – Mid-Season Friendly at The Meadow, Chesham
There wasn’t much out of the ordinary from a normal match day as you walk up the lane off the roundabout where the Amersham Road drops down into Chesham. The midday kick off meant there would be a few late arrivals but nothing seemed out of the ordinary.
Except it was. This was the first game the club had played after the announcement 48 hours earlier that competitive Step 3 and 4 football in England would not be returning for at least a month. The overwhelming majority decision by the 224 clubs who make up the pyramid in the Isthmian, Southern and Northern Premier leagues didn’t prohibit clubs still playing games, although no league games could be played.
With clubs looking to get players fit after four weeks of lockdown the news that they couldn’t restart competitive league games was a tough decision to handle, although understandable in terms of equity and financial impact. With a significant number of clubs located in Tier 3 areas and thus unable to play games in front of fans, the vote to suspend was based on a fair and level playing field for all.
FA Trophy games would continue and so this was an important game for both sides, who would be playing Weston-super-Mare and Tamworth respectively on Tuesday in the Second Qualifying Round of the competition.
“It’s a pain but we just have to get on with it” is the view of the turnstile operator as I hand over my fiver. The Meadow, home to both Step 3 Chesham United and Step 4 Aylesbury United is a big ground at this level, set in a picturesque clearing in the Chesham Bois Wood. It immediately becomes one of my favourite grounds with a club shop that is very heavy on old programmes and football books. I could have spent the first half in there but the players leisurely wandered onto the field – I certainly won’t miss the casual approach to the start of games when normality returns.
Fans grouped together, some not having seen each other since the 3-2 win over Whyteleafe in the last round of the Trophy five weeks ago. Everyone kept their distance and respected the arrows on the floors. The sun did its best to warm up the spectators but it wasn’t a day for shorts and t-shirts.
Both sides had started their interrupted league campaigns positively, sitting just outside the play-off spots and the opening phases were cagey with the home side perhaps having the best of opening exchanges. The pace of the Chesham wide men gave the visitors early headaches but the offside flag denied them on numerous occasions rather than the Royston defence. There wasn’t any surprise when the half time whistle blew and the game was scoreless.
There was certainly a competitive edge to the game – marking it out from a pre-season game and with just a hundred or so in the ground you could hear the chat between the players and the benches. It is fair to say that none of them had a kind word for the officials which keeping the crowd engaged. The deadlock was broken in the 52nd minute when a Chesham run down the right was pulled back for Billie Busari to score. They put the game to bed in the 79th minute with a good solo effort from Eoin Casey.
It is hard what clubs at this level can do to demonstrate to the Government that football can be played in a safe way irrespective of the tier. With so many pictures being circulated on social media of crowds in city centres, without personal protection equipment and scant regard for social distancing. Football not only offers so much social value for the fans but it is often forgotten that clubs are businesses and they have suffered massively in 2020. It isn’t too late for some sensible measures to be put in place that will allow football at Steps 3 and below to be played in all tiers – all it needs is the people who have the influence and authority to want to be part of the solution and not the problem.