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Wednesday 7 December 2011

POV-FS - On the Road - England - Day Eleven: Bus to a Potential Giant-Killing

    With limited action available in London on Sunday, there was some consideration given to hopping on the train to attend a match somewhere else, but I had had enough of trains and running about. There was one match within reach however, as non-league side Sutton United were in search of a cup upset hosting Notts County in the FA Cup.

    I had considered just staying in for the day or enjoying London the city, but prompted by a cheeky bet by Luke Moore of the Football Ramble - double on Sutton and AFC Totton; if you don't listen to and read the Ramble, what's wrong with you - and the remorse of having missed out on Palace v Derby I got my ass in gear.

    Having gotten so lost trying to find my way to Foyle's on Thursday the idea of riding buses in London was a bit daunting. But thankfully and usefully I discovered how awesome google maps can be. Being able to map out a route - including bus numbers and stops - as well as following my progress via cellular locating - without accumulating data charges - was most handy, if a little eery, eh? Big Brother.

    The Tube down to Wimbledon was easy enough, then a bus followed by an interchange and we'd arrived. I was cutting it close, in so much as my ability to estimate time of travel was non-existent, and as the ground drew nearer traffic became insane. The motorway was clogged with parked cars and people began to hop off the bus; I knew we were there.

    One reason I had considered not making the trek was that the website had warned that the home end was virtually sold out and I had concerns about being able to get in. Luckily the away and neutral section was still available, so we made our way through a nearby park to the back entrance.

    To call the Borough Sports Complex a ground was a bit of an overstatement; it was much more a glorified extension of the park it bordered. Wonderfully old-timey as if it had sprouted around the same grass the club had always played on.

Home Stand

    For a Complex, it wasn't very complex; a few miniature stands - a decent one for the home support and an ancient structure for the away. A few temporary bleachers combined with portable food stands gave the area a real carnival feel, and that feel spawned the atmosphere that kicked off the night.

Cameramen cannot be afraid of heights
    After taking up position on the three-tiered terrace near the television camera's temporary scaffold, the match unfolded.

    The largely home crowd were in good voice from the off and their side started brightly. They really took it to County; spurred on by the occasion and their supporters. But as so often happens in these mismatched contests, their profligacy was punished when John Hughes redirected a cross goal wards to give the visitors the lead.

Away Stand
    The potential equalizer was served on a plate, when the referee pointed to the spot, but United were denied by a fine, low diving save by the keeper.

    That miss - it can be classed as such because the kick was too central and not struck hard enough - really sucked the life out of the crowd, so close to halftime too, it must have dampened the spirits of a side who had put all they had into a good start.

    The temporary nature of the surroundings began to take their toil on the crowd, as halftime snacks settled so too did County. The class of the League One outfit began to shine through; they controlled the pace, and threatened to grab a second.

    Frustration began to mount as United could not find a way back into the match, culminating in a player being sent off for consecutive yellows in quick succession.

    Hughes quickly doubled the lead thereafter, as the helium slowly leaked out of the evening.

    I felt bad for the home team and their fans, but it dawned on me that as nice as it would have been to move on, they'd already had their night. ESPN's crew covered the match, granting some exposure to the club; between that and the gate receipts the club had hopefully banked a decent nest-egg, and they'd reconnected with their community. The number of families I saw, and groups of the sort of people I had not seen at other matches, gave the impression that everyone associated with the area had come out in support.

    And isn't that the point of football and the FA Cup in particular; bringing the community together to enjoy a fine night out. I was very glad I'd made the effort to be there.

Entrance to the club house
    It would be interesting to see what kind of longer term effect a night such as this has for a smaller club. Do the increases gates continue for a while? Does the spotlight rekindle the affection an area has for its club? Does it bring new local kids out more regularly? I sure hope it does.

    We picked up some scarves and made our way back into London proper - via a different bus route - and were satiated with another great experience, despite the disappointment of a home team curse continued, though this could hardly be said to be my fault.

    If this was to be the last match of the trip, it was an excellent closing match to take in. I was in search of the whole spectrum of English football, and I think that has been accomplished.

    Up next potentially, Fulham v Liverpool and a bit of sightseeing.

An empty ground after a good, if unsuccesful night

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