Tuesday, November 9, 2010

To the Ends of the Earth

farlieonfootie Correspondent Ed on Recent Travels

photo by henribergiusvia PhotoRee
Due to a precipitously declining readership base for his articles, as well as a lengthy list of transgressions too sordid to dignify with publication on this family-friendly website, farlieonfooties' former Spurs' correspondent Ed has been "reassigned" to a new beat for the coming weeks. 
November 8, 2010 / KINGSMEADOW, Kingston Upon Thames, Surrey, England
From the look of the low-hanging sun it could be any time from early morning to noon to late evening here in Surrey, and through the damp chill I find myself staring at a yellow banner of a large sketched likeness of Danny Kedwell, the Captain and leading scorer of AFC Wimbledon, and wondering how I went from the top of the Champions League to here at Kingsmeadow Park (capacity 5,011). 
My mind quickly rewinds the events of the past month:  Was it my grazing the hand of my farlieonfootie assistant, Sissy Buttlefelt, at Tuesday’s staff meeting (completely unintentional I should add)?  Was it James, that annoyingly positive new guy (“I’ll get right on it, Mr. F!!”), whose readership numbers were (allegedly) a bit higher than mine in Hong Kong and Malaysia?    Or maybe, just maybe, was it that office-wide email wherein I described our editor, the great farlieonfootie himself, as “a man-bag carrying, monkey-touching nihilist?”  One can only speculate of course, but it’s becoming impossible to do that right now as I’m constantly being jolted to attention by the belligerent barking of Coach Liam Daish during this incendiary (work with me, people) first round FA cup match between the Dons (a/k/a the Wombles, a/k/a the Crazy Gang) and Ebbsfleet United (formerly Gravesend & Northfleet).
You may have heard of Ebbsfleet United (the “Fleet”); if not, just check out www.myfootballclub.co.uk, the web-based venture that owns the team.  Unlike farlieonfootie, members of the website have a say in the organization’s operations, and are permitted to vote on items such as player transfers and starting lineups.  And no, I’m not kidding.  One might even wonder what team manager Daish is left to do, but clearly his role is to insult the referees (“For f**k’s sake!!!!”) and scream caustic instructions to his players (“For f**k’s sake, one of you has to mark him!!!!  Can’t you figure it out between the two of you!!!!! For f**k’s sake!!!!”).  If you don't believe me, see the video below:

The FA Cup is, for those unfamiliar, the tournament in England in which clubs from all divisions – Premier League (the top division) to Conference Play (the fifth division) – compete for a trophy to be won at the final game at Wembley.  In American football terms, this would be as if the New York Jets were in the same tournament as, say, the Fordham Rams.  Fun, crazy, but not really workable for American football due to the resulting carnage. 
And so, as I hear and read repeatedly from the Womblers in the stands and the banners on the walls:  “The Road to Wembley goes through Kingsmeadow.”  The road also goes, I should add, almost right up to the field at Kingsmeadow, as the rowhouses behind the east goal seem to lean forward over the pitch as if to have a curious glance at the action down below.  It’s interesting and terrific, really, to watch as one unlucky midfielder for the Dons slams one over the net and into a . . . . tree.  Well, someone’s going to have to get that later, I guess, and for all I know farlieonfootie has volunteered me for the task.
But don’t let the small town charm fool you.  This match is as tough and as violent as any, with enough gouging, chopping and stomping to give a La Liga fan a case of the vapors.  With about 15 minutes left in the half, Fleet midfielder Tom Phipp is tackled and then stomped on, leaving his arm bleeding and hanging loosely at his side for the remainder.  Later, Wombler winger Christian Jolley delivers a crunching tackle to Fleet midfielder Craig Stone and is promptly and predictably given a straight red.  “For F**k’s sake!!” screams Coach Daish, rather predictably at this point.  But maybe that explains the weird banner over the west end goal of a devil holding a soccer ball and dressed up in a Wimbledon jersey that reads:  “Evil is a Don.”  I don’t know; just a guess.
The game is first controlled by Wimbledon, with Ryan Jackson making some promising runs down the wing, and Captain Danny Kedwell putting some stern shots on goal.  Among the most promising attempts is a corner kick --  taken from the west corner of Kingsmeadow, located alarmingly close to the rest rooms -- which Don winger Jolley knocked just over the bar. 
As the rain sets in and drips on the camera lens (seriously, can’t the camera guy see that?), Ebbsfleet begins to take control of the match.  Winger Ricky Shakes makes positive run after positive run down the left side of the field, and at one point puts a useful cross on the head of midfielder Phipp, who slots it just wide.   At about the 30 minute mark, veteran striker Calum Willock pushes a ball past the last defender and onto the left foot of Shakes, but Wombler goalkeeper Seb Brown is on the spot and does well to break up the play.  As the half winds down, I notice the Womblers are singing even more loudly than before.  I also can’t help but notice that as the sun emerges from the clouds a brilliant rainbow appears to the east over the Fleet goal.
The second half of the match begins with each team down a man due to the aforementioned red card to Jolley, and another to Fleet midfielder Ashley Carew on second yellow.  The pace of the game picks up, and the additional space on the pitch makes room for plenty of shots from both sides.  Regrettably, most of these are launched like howitzers into the surrounding townhomes and streets -- with one notable shot pounded so high and hard by midfielder Phipp that it may have landed in East Hobbiton.  And unfortunately, when the whistle finally blows after five minutes of stoppage time, neither team has been able to put a shot past the other’s goalkeeper, the game ends in a scoreless draw.
As I sit in the darkness of the emptying stadium, I find myself thinking of many things, from the prominently labeled “Tea Bar” off the southeast corner of the pitch, to the ubiquitous “Paul Strank Roofing” advertisements plastered on almost every available wall.  I also find myself thinking of players like the 29 year old Calum Willock – players who’ve seen the top leagues early in their career, only briefly, and for one reason or another never made it back.  Here they are in Kingsmeadow, playing in near anonymity for teams that can’t pay them much more than a living wage, and knowing their careers will end here near the bottom.   There’s a sorrow there, but should there be? 
For those of us that play after work or before work, for those of us that put on our EPL jerseys and cleats and stumble our way up and down the pitch into our forties and fifties, the game remains as joyful as it was when we were kids.  It’s during these games we can dare to dream of playing before a crowd, any crowd, and dare to imagine banners bearing our names. 
As for me, well, sometimes during my own anonymous game on Wednesday nights I can almost see stands like those of Kingsmeadow around me and I can almost hear the crowds singing us on.  And sometimes if it’s drizzling just right, when I take that fat, gift-wrapped cross and wistfully pound up, up, up and over the goal into the street behind I can almost hear someone in the distance yell those pithy words that all Womblers’ and Fleet fans know so well: “For f**k’s sake!!”

This is farlieonfootie for November 10.

1 comment: