If memory serves It was a scorching day in the summer of 1996. A gaggle of boys in a break from sitting their GCSEs head across a daisy-stewn field, the school receding in the background both literally and metaphorically. Reaching their destination, as is customary, bags are unceremoniously slung down in two piles to represent goalposts and a kick-around, one of the last before life gets serious, starts. Memories get hazy, but some moments always stick out – like your first kiss, or Matt Le Tissier’s goal against Manchester United, the one where he jinks between two defenders and lobs the oncoming Schmichael. The rest of the game has been lost to time, but for the moment where one of us pulled off a sublime overhead-kick: laying almost flat on the ground, extending a leg with the grace of a synchronised swimmer and connecting perfectly with the ball. I didn’t even get close to it.
It was a goal by that same player, Craig McAllister, which sunk Hayes and Yeading in the 54th minute. Headed in from a corner it’s not as spectacular as his effort all those years ago, but they all count.
That Eastleigh had taken the lead wasn’t much of a surprise. This was my third time watching this particular fixture and it was the best Eastleigh performance by a long way, in fact it’s the best Eastleigh performance I’ve ever seen. The team playing short passes on the ground and building up patiently before delivering the final ball into McAllister. By the end of the first half Hayes & Yeading having been under near-constant pressure and having had one of their full-backs sent off for a second yellow card, due to a reckless challenge in the Eastleigh area it seemed the game was there for Eastleigh’s taking.
A likely half-time talking to from their manager, ex-Liverpool defender Phil Babb, saw Hayes & Yeading start well and win two early corners, but the hairdryer only carries teams so far and by the time of McAllister’s goal they were back in the doldrums. Their frustration only increasing as Eastleigh then smothered the game the same way you’d imagine Bill ‘fatty’ Foulke would smother a football. Eastleigh Captain Glenn Southam was heard telling a colleague that it “don’t matter how many passes it takes” as Eastleigh produced a lesson in possession football. I started counting passes, the first time I got up to sixteen (I started counting about four, or five passes in), then in the move next twenty-two.
A little more urgency crept in when a defensive lapse allowed Hayes & Yeading to rattle the bar with a well-hit strike. With the ball bouncing dangerously only the presence of mind of goalkeeper Ross Flitney prevented an equalizer. Moments later Hayes hit the post. Both times they had been unlucky, but fortunately for Eastleigh with fifteen minutes left it was all the visitors had to give and the game ended 1-0 to Eastleigh who remain top of the table.