For non-league day I had planned to visit the Silverlake Stadium for Eastleigh v Southport, but circumstances intervened which saw me on babysitting duty. Football would have to wait, or so I thought. As we approached the playpark at Riverside Park I happened to notice the changing pavilion open and some players warming up on the pitch for what must be a Saturday League game, the names AFC Station and Thompson FC written in marker on a whiteboard. I would be seeing some football after all.
It’s been a while since I’ve played 11-a-side, but I instantly recognised the warm up routine of crosses into the box – different to 5-a-side which involves players pelting the balls at the unfortunate ‘keeper (me) until the referee signals the start of the game. It was AFC station who were warming up. With half an hour to go until the start of the game there was no sign of the opposition.
By the time Thompson FC trickled onto the pitch, just before the scheduled kick-off time, AFC Station had moved to an organised routine of jogging across the pitch. but as the game began taking shape Halfway through helping my daughter up a climbing frame I noticed a Thompson FC forward through on goal. The Station ‘keeper remaining resolutely on his line. “Come on… close him down” I said, involuntarily, half under my breath, as I fought the practised urge of my leg muscles to dash forward with my arms spread like a orang-utan. The ‘keeper though stayed on his line watching the striker send his shot trickling wide, only leaving his position to begin the long jog to retrieve the ball.
Half an hour in and it was clear that there was an inevitability to the result. AFC Station were holding on admirably and benefiting from the odd bit of luck and some bad finishing whilst a Thompson shot which did find itself on target drew a fine save from the ‘keeper, but as legs became tired they would be sure to benefit from the extra space available (and indeed the FA full-time website confirms Thompson FC won 4-0).
My time in the park though was at an end. As we left we passed along the sideline where one teams manager was pacing restlessly barking instructions. A scene no doubt which was repeated in parks across the country. My youngest daughter, transfixed by the action, tripped over a crack in the footpath. I helped her up and through her tears she turned her head, determined to carry on watching the game as we walked back to the car.