“Now then, if the answer is nine, what is the question? Well, it could be: how many football clubs has Ian Simpemba played for?”
By Kevin Anderson
SIM AND SERGIO: LIVING WITH LEGENDS
Now then, if the answer is nine, what is the question? Well, it could be: how many football clubs has Ian Simpemba played for? And if you asked how many of those clubs have given him the status of legend, the answer would still be nine. And incidentally, how many of them has he played against this season? Three so far – Havant, Dover, Crawley – or four if you include the pre-season friendly at Lewes. There was quite an entertaining exchange this week on the Crawley Town forum, where one poster dared to criticise Lord Simpemba, for roughing up one or two of his favourite Reds superstars in the SSC. The post drew instant responses from Crawley folk with much fonder memories...
“I will not have Mr Simpemba slated on this forum! A decent, genuine lad who always gave 100% for us. Just looking at his stats, I noted that he never scored a league goal for us, which surprised me.” ... “Quite right - Ian was a committed Crawley player and gave 100%, even up front away at a windy Canvey Island!” … “I second that, Simpemba is a top bloke. He was one of the coaches when I did a half term Crawley Town soccer school in the mid 00s. Takes me back to when I started watching Crawley when I was a kid.” … “Great player and just a lovely lad. I've even forgiven him for the trauma I suffered when greeted by my young daughter excitedly, with hindsight I was less than charitable, when she informed me that apparently ‘he is going to be a very talented footballer.’ ”
Ha – going to be…? Wasn’t it Martin Peters who was ten years ahead of his time? In truth it’s lucky for Barack Obama that Sim is Irish, because if he’d only had American nationality he’d probably have been US President by now. I suspect there is some sort of UN Ambassador for Football post awaiting the Big Man when he finally hangs up the boots. You might find it a bit surprising that Ian still enjoys so much affection, since on the field of play he has always been a steel-and-concrete figure, who has officially left more opposition strikers on the floor than any other known centre-half. But heck, he’s a lot bigger than me so I’m not about to argue…
I could probably have compiled the same sort of tribute for Sergio, who on Tuesday was also up against his former employers – indeed, he led the Steve Evans Reds on that unforgettable FA Cup journey that ended at Old Trafford. What a lovely moment he enjoyed on Boxing Day, where Borough and Whitehawk supporters – nor always the best of friends – were united in applauding Sergio off the field, and the home fans presented him with a special memento picture.
I finally finished reading the Torres biography – From the Brick Factory to Old Trafford – and it’s a brilliant, engaging, tears-and-laughter story. Catch me if you’d like to borrow it. The blurb on the cover says it all, really: “The true-life story of an imagined Utopia - of willpower, sacrifice and joy, and of daring to dream. Imagine you're working in a brick factory in the Argentine city Mar del Plata, and a 22-year-old colleague tells you he's going to quit his job to become a professional footballer in Europe. Yeah, right. Next, he blows his savings on a ticket to England, travelling with just 300 dollars in his pocket. He doesn't speak English, has no one to stay with and no work. Time passes. You forget about the kid. Until, three years later, you turn on the TV and he's playing against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge - mixing it against the likes of Ballack and Drogba. After his brush with the Blues, it isn't long before he's up against Wayne Rooney at a packed Theatre of Dreams. The incredible journey of Crawley Town playmaker Sergio Torres shows that reality can be stranger than fantasy...”
In an era where many footballers at the top of the game are obscenely overpaid and over-preened, most of them living in gated mock-Georgian mansions and travelling on private jets with private bodyguards, Sim and Serge are the human face of professional football. They’ll probably be in the clubhouse after the match today. Go on, shake them by the hand and remind yourself that you, too, are a part – an important part – of the sane, modest, happy and very human football family which is non-League.
CLOCKING UP THE MILES
I’m not sure exactly how many miles of road and motorway we cover in a National South season – Jim will probably come up with an instant answer from his commanding position in the driving seat – but while I have the privilege of riding shotgun alongside Mr Stewart on the team bus, many of our most loyal supporters clock up just as many miles by any and all modes of transport.
So take a bow, the hard-core bunch of incorrigibles who spend hours – not to mention hard-earned cash – supporting their heroes. Take a bow, the minibus pilgrims who hammered their way to Evesham in December, non-stop I believe, on the bleakest of days. A 350 miles return trip – and at least a victory to make it worthwhile. Take a bow, the clutch of loyalists like Big John, Geoff, John-and-Wendy-and-the-granddaughters, who endured a pretty grim Borough performance at Welling last week. Take a bow, the railway warriors who always seem to appear from nowhere: there we are at Weston or at Hungerford, and suddenly they appear, usually heard before seen! And take a bow, the drivers – Chris and Tony, David and Mark among others.
I caught up with that last pair a few weeks ago at Braintree. Dad David and son Mark almost never miss an away game, since Mark was a youngster and he has now set off for Portsmouth Uni. End of the Borough love affair? Certainly not – Mark makes it back every weekend, so that the men of the family can get to the footy while Mum does his laundry (ooch, did I really just write that?). I have promised to write up their story properly – but fellers, I want a pic to go across my Left Field page, so I’ll catch you in the main stand today and we’ll make you the headline act for St Albans next Saturday!
Updated 08:34 - 12 Jan 2018 by Lee Peskett
A very warm welcome, of course, to our old friends from the Beveree. We do look at you lot with very slightly bashful embarrassment, each time we recall the Stevenage play-off night, when Hampton and Richmond swarmed all over the Sports for 85 minutes, only for Nathan Crabb and Paul Armstrong to grab the goals and the promotion slot – and Alan Devonshire to refuse me a BBC interview! Fair play, though. The legends (there’s that word again) who are Baker, Austin, Crabb, Hooky, Jenks, and the rest of Garry Wilson’s great squad had earned that promotion 42 times over… Enjoy the game, everyone!