Sunday, October 23, 2011

shoe 001

We were on the Isle of Wight this weekend and Andrew and I went to see Brading Town v Alton Town in the 1st round of the FA Vase. Both teams are in the Wessex league (which feeds into the Southern League which feeds into the Conference which feeds into the football league). Alton are a bit higher in the table.

There were about 60 people there (Andrew said he counted them). The Peter Henry Ground is on a pronounced slope. At the top of the slope is the clubhouse and teabar. Slightly further down the slope is a changing room block. Then the goal that Alton defended in the first half. Behind the opposite goal, at the bottom of the slope, is the railway line running between Ryde and Shanklin.

Every five minutes or so one of the old London Underground trains that run on the line comes rumbling past. Behind that Brading marsh, drained by the Victorians, stretches on, flat and empty, all the way to Bembridge Harbour.

There are two small stands on each side of the pitch, each covering the little bit of touchline either side of the half way line. We were in the one on the right hand side if you look down the slope. It had 63 seats in it (Andrew worked it out).

There were 5 people in it apart from us two. Three men behind us were talking about non-league football, and the plight of Newport Town, the Island's biggest club, now sunk down to the Wessex league, no longer able to pay its players.

Then they mentioned Gillingham Town (the Dorset club, not the Kent one) - another club with a great view of railway line (this time the Waterloo to Exeter line). I mentioned I had been to Gillingham Town's ground. One of the men said that he had gone there to see their changing rooms. Turned out he used to be chair of Brading and under his watch he got the funding to build the changing block and the stand we were sitting in (which cost £11,000).

Later in the conversation he said he came from Chessington and supported Fulham. Turns out he comes to watch Fulham once a season, just like we watch Brading once a season. The last two times he had come to watch Fulham Bobby Zamora had scored last minute winners (against Blackburn and Birmingham). He told us that when Brading play Newport, usually on a boxing day, they get 250 people in the ground.

Brading do not pay their players - some of the bigger sides in the Wessex league do. Almost all the side live on the east side of the Isle of Wight, within 3 miles of the ground (mainly Ryde and Sandown).

Brading were 1-0 down at half time. Alton were slightly quicker and slicker. In the second half, kicking down the slope, Brading scored four great goals. After the first two Alton game back up the pitch and won a penalty straight away to restore their lead. The third met with no response from Alton. The fourth came with two minutes to go to put Brading 4-3 up. Alton chucked the kitchen sink at Brading, forced corner after corner, one shot was saved on the line by a Brading defender using what appeared to be an elbow. The people in front of us who had come to sit in the stand at half time complained that the ref had played 8 minutes injury time. Alton's goalkeeper came up. Brading scrambled the ball away for another corner. This one came to the far post where an Alton player 5 yards out was able to head in unchallenged.

4-4. Extra time to be played.

The only other 4-4 game I have ever seen was 27 years ago, just a few miles away, at Fratton Park when Fulham came from being 4-0 down at half time to draw 4-4 at Portsmouth, with Kevin Lock putting away a penalty in the last minute of injury time.

The ex-chaiman told us that the team that won through to the next round got £1,000 from the FA which would mean a lot to Brading. It would pay for four away trips for the team. He seemed resigned to Brading going out with Alton getting the psychological boost from the last gasp equaliser. He wondered off to the clubhouse. By the time he'd come back Alton were 5-4 up. Brading had some near misses but seemed to run out of legs by the end.