Hampshire Intermediate Cup Round One
|Charlton Athletic Track, Andover|
Kev Willsher lay still on the grass in the D of the penalty area. The referee blew his whistle to stop the game and allow Paul Dyke onto the field with the medical bag, while I wondered just how an ambulance planned on finding a way through the wire mesh fence and across the six lane running track that surrounded the pitch, so that they could rush Kev to hospital and put his face back together.
Dyke knelt down beside Kev and after rooting through the jumbled contents of our medical bag, decided on a combination of reassuring words and the wet sponge to treat our captain with. The sponge has seen better days, with one side of it deeply absorbed with blood of seasons' past.
Dyke used it firstly to wipe away the white spittle congealed into a thin paste in each corner of Kev's lips, then his eye socket, that had swollen in the brief moments since he had been struck in the temple by an Andover elbow. Groggy, but in need of no further medical assistance, Kev got back to his feet.
We were at Charlton Athletic Track to play Andover Reserves in the first round of the Hampshire Intermediate Cup, having had the opportunity to play at their Portway stadium taken from us by rabbits; who have become non paying tenants of Andover's premises, since digging a series of trenches across the pitch.
The infestation was first reported in June, leading the Southern League into scheduling the Andover first team to play their first four league games away from home, no doubt hoping the rabbits would have moved on by early September; but, despite Andover ground staff's efforts, officials from the Southern League failed a Tuesday morning pitch inspection.
Seven games away from Old Trafford
Having beaten Sittingbourne, Andover will play Chertsey Town for a purse of £3,000 in their forthcoming home FA Cup first round qualifying tie, in nearby Whitchurch. Nonsensical Southern League rules do not permit the reversal of fixtures, forcing Andover to postpone last Friday's home league game with North Leigh.
Nevertheless, Andover's first eleven are a mere seven cup ties away from reaching the draw for the FA Cup third round, and with it the possibility of facing perhaps even Manchester United; a mouth watering possibility that five of Andover's players had to put to one side, because without a first team fixture, they were drafted into the reserves to face up to the altogether different prospect of plying their trade against Burridge AFC.
Although failing to meet several of the criteria for category E of the Football Association's ground grading that Southern League football demands, the facilities at Charlton Athletic track were pleasant enough. Floodlit, surrounded by a running track and flanked by a grassy bank for spectators to sit upon on one side, it also had a seldom seen hammer throw cage at one end behind the goal.
Dyke drove majority of us up the M3 in the club mini-bus, a former Royal Mail truck LDV pilot, that has been sprayed black and bears the club name on its side. He put its grunt to the test by pulling off daring manoeuvre on the fast lane of the M3, by overtaking a Wiseman Fresh Milk Dairies truck that was hogging the middle lane at a conservative 70 miles per hour.
Clinical match analysis
Andover's right-winger, who as Burridge left-back, it was my job to stop, looked considerably younger than myself, although as time passes this has become less an observation and more a weekly occurrence. What I first took for an enormous shirt collar label, was in fact a peroxide blond rat's tail, about an inch in length, protruding from the nape of his otherwise scissor short brown hair, which gave him the appearance of a member of the eighteenth century French aristocracy.
Isolated and on occasions alone on Andover's right-wing, I could often hear him muttering to himself in frustration. He did however get the better of me, in terms of speed down their right in what turned out to be the only goal of a closely fought game. His cross was met by a strike that Ryan Jones did well to palm away, but the rebound was side-footed comfortably into an unguarded net.
Andover's two centre forwards kept Hurst and Willsher fully occupied during the first-half. One, a giant of a man, in the Efan Ekoku mould, was accidentally responsible for Kev Willsher's makeover. The giant was later taken off and given linesman duties; a responsibility he acted out with little relish. On the occasions he was called upon to point or move his flag, he did so slowly and gently, as though handling explosives rather than a plastic tube with a fluorescent flag attached to its end.
Daniel Esfandiari, or Essy as he is more commonly known was put on by Dyke at half-time. Essy's shin pads have been subject of much debate during his first few months at the club. Small, an on initial inspection, looking as though they offer no more protection from a late tackle than a pair of credit cards slipped down each sock, they are what Essy feels comfortable in. And that is the most important thing.
The game, in the most parts, was conducted in good spirits and the referee had very little cause to intervene, although a few Andover players did betray an attitude not uncommon from players of the Hampshire, Wessex and Southern League, when facing so called 'lesser' opponents, reacting to some of our physical tactics with a wave of the hand and a quick dismissal of our abilities.
This can only breed contempt in the heart of the opposition, and with the score remaining close, most of the Andover side did well to avoid trying to rub our noses in it. Although, in hindsight we did give them a kicking at times; it was afterall a game of commitment if perhaps not skill, with Burridge, in the second half at least, at full tilt in terms of effort. It was not enough to get a result at Andover, but similar efforts will stand us in good stead in the coming weeks with games against unforgiving opponents.
Much later on I was sprawled out on the sofa of my flat, exhausted and contemplating bed some way shy of 9pm. The words of Murtaugh, Danny Glover's character in Lethal Weapon, rang loudly in my ears. Click here for what is fast becoming my new catchphrase.
Paul Dyke picked a 4-4-2 formation:
GK: Ryan Jones
RB: Dan Allen (Daniel Esfandiari)
CB: Kev Willsher (c )
CB: Ryan Hurst
LB: Mark Sanderson
RM: Sam Hewitt
CM: Jason Wilson
CM: Kristian Hewitt
LM: Mark Reeves (Ben Hutton)
CF: Joe Hill (Ben Rowe)
CF: Sam Schwodler
Loyal lonely spectator: Marc Judd
Click here for results from the 1st round of the Hampshire Cup.