Tuesday 27th April 2021 7:45pm KO – The Supplementary Cup – The Countryside Stadium
The end of April is traditionally the business end of the season, and whilst most of the Non-League game has been long packed away for next season, there’s a few little competitions still taking place, albeit without the presence of any fans. Saturday saw my debut at the Southern Combination League Supplementary Cup competition and three days on, it was the final games of the group stage for most.
Who doesn’t like a ‘winner takes all’ game? Liverpool v Arsenal from 1989, the annual “richest game in football” the Championship Play-off Final and of course England v Brazil in the 1970 World Cup in Mexico. Well, let’s add Broadbridge Heath versus Loxwood to that illustrious list as The Bears took on The Magpies for a place in the semi-final of the inaugural Supplementary Cup. With both sides level on 9 points each from 5 games, and with the same goal difference, the winner would go through to the semi-finals, whilst a draw would see Broadbridge Heath progress on goals scored.
Whilst both clubs have histories dating back over a hundred years, the Southern Combination Premier League is the highest they have both competed at, having reached Step 5 for the first time in the last few years. Lewes have met both sides, just once in recent years, beating Broadbridge Heath back in 2018 in the Second Round of the Sussex Senior Cup with a single goal by Ronnie Conlon in extra-time, whilst our last meeting with Loxwood came at the Semi-Final stage back in 2015, with the Rooks running out 3-0 winners.
As with most leagues nowadays at Step 5, the competition for the single, or in some seasons, two promotion spots to Step 4 are highly contested, with some clubs having budgets that would make Step 3 sides blush. Down in the Southern Combination League it is a bit more of the level playing field, with Lancing likely to be the beneficiaries of the current FA restructure in moving up to Step 4. Lancing have a 3G pitch and also have the Sussex FA as tenants at Culver Road – a set up that won’t look out of place at Step 4. But apart from them, Eastbourne Town and Newhaven, the league is relatively even.
Broadbridge Heath moved at the start of last season to the Countryside Stadium, no more than a few metres from the Leisure Centre where they had been playing for many years. Their original ground was just another stone’s throw away and is now covered by the Tesco Superstore car park. The new modest facility on the edge of Horsham gives the club an opportunity to build for the future, with a very well-appointed club house and sixteen teams already under the umbrella of the club.
Lesson number 1 – Don’t trust Google Maps when navigating to The Countryside Stadium. The route will take you past the logical entrance to the development and even for a sign that says “Leisure Centre” and into a housing estate. After you have negotiated a number of twists and turns you get to a locked gate, literally yards from the ground but with nowhere to park.
The game kicked off with the bustle of a busy night on the adjacent 3G pitches and the hum of chatter outside the bar. The visitors were the quickest out of the blocks, peppering the Broadbridge Heath penalty area but the keeper was rarely tested – shots from distance weren’t exactly on target, well at least if it was assumed they were aiming at the goal.
Lesson number 2 – Don’t put any food or drink down on the floor around the pitch when you are distracted by taking pictures. There are perimeter barriers but few of them are “fences”. So when a wayward shot from a player smacks into your bottle of water it isn’t the player who looks silly.
The visitors took the lead in the 18th minute when a low cross from the right hand side and was tucked away at the far post, despite some valiant efforts from the Bears keeper. The celebration saw the Loxwood player sprint to the sidelines where the bar tables were and for one second it looked as if he would grab a swig of beer. Alas, as a photographer with my lens trained on him, he just high-fived someone.
The rest of the half saw a few niggly challenges, with three Loxwood players going into the referee’s notebook – one more than the shots on goal in the first period.
There was a hope that the second period would see some blood and thunder – for one of these teams this would be the last ninety minutes of football they would play until July. Unfortunately, that didn’t materialise until the visitors doubled their lead in the 70th minute with a fine strike from the edge of the box.
Lesson number 3 – Half-time breaks are the time to use the conveniences. Not in the final ten minutes of an all or nothing cup tie. I never learn.
Realising that this could be their last opportunity to play, Broadbridge Heath found some extra energy. In the 75th minute a chance was cleared off the line by a Loxwood defender but five minutes later Taylor made no mistake and halved the arrears. The drama built in the final minute when Loxwood were reduced to 10 men but despite some desperate defending, Broadbridge couldn’t find the goal that would have seen them go through.
You only really miss something when it has been taken away and in normal circumstances few would be interested in an end of season cup competition. But we live in abnormal times and it was brilliant to be in a ground watching a game, something we all should never take for granted.