Kevin Anderson takes his usual look at life around Priory Lane
WEST COUNTRY COUSINS
A genuinely warm welcome to Bath City this weekend. Other clubs may come and go, but some are simply a part of the landscape. Bath City is a proper football club. I love them, apart from anything, for having a proper football ground and not one from flat-packs off a lorry. I say this with all respect - but I'm not sure that Twerton Park has changed an awful lot since my first visit as a schoolboy sometime in the 1960s. Big cavernous grandstand plus various other bits of traditional football architecture, terraces that go up hill and down dale, and the line of Mendip Hills stretching beyond. And I love not just their football ground, but their football people. From Southern League to Conference South and briefly Conference National, from FA Cup highs to lurching financial lows, they have stuck by their club. I love them because, like my own home club, they battle for a fair shout in a Rugby-dominated city. I hate them for beating Gloucester City 7-0 - it might have been 7-1 - in a Southern League Cup tie in about 1972, when I had hitch-hiked right across England to get to the game. But I love them a lot more than I hate them, and I hope they have a safe and enjoyable trip this weekend. (And a heroic but narrow 4-3 defeat....)
Actually my proudest Bath City link - because it shows what true football friendship is about - is the Friday night in 2003, when my old friend and then Gloucester City chairman Colin Gardner (now very sadly passed on) saw a local TV news item that the Romans were desperate to pay off a VAT bill or else go out of existence. Colin reached for his cheque book on the spot and wrote them a cheque for the final £3000 they needed, and no strings attached. Only in non-league....
Upcoming for Borough - well, not exactly for Borough - is the visit of The Army on Wednesday 29th, to play a National League representative side managed by Tommy. It is a nice little honour and the biggest rep game since we hosted the Four Nations Non-League International tournament a decade ago, and it really deserves your support. The programme on the night will be produced by the League and the Army, and not by the Sports, so I'll get my six penn'orth in now. I've just this week been chatting with Borough's Own Soldier, Lloyd Higgins - who ironically cannot be at the Lane on the 29th because he has a refereeing gig at Wolverhampton between the RAF and the Royal Navy! Lloyd is a serving soldier and he does a lot of the quietly unspoken things that put your adventures and mine in the shade. His expertise is, among others, in munitions safety and transit - think about that when you are next juggling your beer glasses. He is in between tours of duty, and was in Kenya a month ago supervising training activities, and as we speak Lloyd is in Estonia on a NATO exercise. Then in July he is off on a seven-month tour to South Sudan, which is about as demanding and volatile as it gets. We sometimes get opinionated, don't we, on military matters, anything from invading Iraq to scrapping Trident. But put aside your politics, and put yourself briefly in the boots of guys like Lloyd Higgins. Simply heroes. Lloyd, we salute you.
GOOD LUCK, ELLIOTT
Elliott's move to the Daggers this week is excellent news for both the player and the club - and yes, I do mean the second bit as well as the first. Ells has made an enormous and quite explosive contribution in these two seasons. If he won't mind me saying so, he arrived as a little bit of a loose cannon and he has become a piece of highly honed artillery - a lethal weapon at the front of any team. Now, that is down to the lad himself but also to the team around him and to the staff. What it reflects is that Eastbourne Borough is a place where players can progress - and that reputation, trust me, is one that's growing around the circuit.
Inevitably there was a burst of social media reaction in midweek, most of it wishing Elliott well, of course, but some of it lamenting that we couldn't hold on to him. Well, I know only a tiny bit more than the average supporter, but I fully believe John Bonar when he tells me that this was good business for the football club, and the only logical way forward. Consider - would you honestly have wished to hold back a highly promising player from his chance to go up a level and go full-time? Of course not.
And let's give credit to the whole team for the headway made this season. Yes, Elliott notched 22 goals if my arithmetic is correct. But the team has actually scored 82 goals in all competitions - a very impressive total which should pass the 100 mark before the end of April. There are plenty of goals to be spread around out there.....
Of course, it isn't just Ells whom we will miss. Hs Mum and Dad have been a loyal, enthusiastic presence week in week out, away as well as home. I mentioned Gus in the online version of the last Left Field, but it suffered the Editor's Knife (I always write too much...). He has been a cheery and sociable friend, and every time I catch up with him he freely shares his view of the team shape, the tactics, the state of the weather and most other things. And alongside him, Mary-Anne smiles wisely. Proud parents both. I hope they enjoy the drive to the Daggers' game this afternoon: they're away at Barrow....
Speaking of away trips, we had a harrowing afternoon at Chelmsford last Saturday. My match report can be read elsewhere, but it left me thinking two things. Firstly, if you're brave enough to travel away, the most you will expect - even from a successful side - is probably only one win in two. Take it on the chin, applaud your heroes regardless, and get ready to pack your lunch box for the next trip. That's what true supporters do. Secondly, what remarkable commitment these folks show, and how many miles they clock up. We had a shared bus last Saturday - committee up front, players at the back, and about twenty fans in the middle. Some of them, the John Smiths and the Steve Darcys, go back decades. Others go back merely to when I still had hair....
Anyway, en route I was introduced to a wonderful, slightly quirky and completely time-wasting Internet site. It's called www.footballgroundmap.com and it lets you track and log all the grounds you've every visited. And I do mean all. Any league, any country - and if a ground is not listed, you do a little search to prove that it exists and you can add it. Needless to say, several of the guys aboard the Chelmo battle bus are full signed-up members:
- Take a bow, Nigel Tredwin. Nigel was chalking up the Melbourne Stadium (ok, the Gulag to those who know it well) as his Ground Number 99. Should he make it to Weston-Super-Mare in April, he'll be in three figures. Now then, retired schoolteacher Nigel has a greater claim to fame: at Willingdon Primary School, he taught a little lad called Ryan Worrall all he knows. How to ping those crossfield passes, where to place the penalty, how to quiff up that flouncy hair - no, maybe not that last one. And Nigel has of course been proud to track Ryan's progress from Year Four to pulling on shirt number 4.
- Stand up, Geoff Ferguson. Readers, you quite possibly bought your programme from him at his usual match-day patch just in front of the clubhouse. A legal eagle with Citizens' Advice, he also spends the close season leading walks with Eastbourne Ramblers. (Me, I'm an ambler rather than a rambler, but Mrs A, a keen walker herself, tells me that his "brisk pace walks" are legendary!) From Rochdale to Bognor Regis, Geoff's grand total stands at exactly 200. Brilliant.
I couldn't resist joining the site myself, of course, fully expecting to overhaul the Ferguson total, but my first pass only got me to a total of 198. Mind you, I have yet to delve into the depths of the Somerset League, the true obscurity of the Midland Combination, or the truly esoteric venues of Germany's Regionalliga Sud. No pressure, Geoff....
Meanwhile, back on the coach, I catch up with senior citizens (I'm allowed to call them that, 'cos I am one too) John and Wendy, whom I know well from their Polegate Drama activities. And it's a big day for their family because - skipping a generation - they have brought along youngsters Emma and Katherine for their first ever "proper" away trip, by which I mean climb-on-the-coach and get north of the Thames. The four of them are regulars at Priory Lane, and the girls are also members of the very successful Borough Ladies Under-14s. Sorry about the Chelmo result, girls, and best of luck in your upcoming big Cup semi-final!
Not everyone climbs aboard the bus, of course. In some corner of a foreign field, I can usually expect to meet up with car travellers Chris and Tony - the latter of whom used to regularly take me apart in local football when I was the thinking man's left full back and he was the quickest right winger in the county. Or there's my namesake Kev Powney, whose uncle Brian wore the keeper's jersey with great distinction for the Albion, and whose reading of a football match is second to none. And his photography is pretty damn good, too.
There is a common thread here. We all of us have quite separate lives, but in following our football team, we are one family. Of course we all lead multiple lives - family, career, hobbies and interests - but I think non-league might just be unique in bringing together people from so many walks of life. It's partly about scale: at White Hart Lane you are one of fifty thousand anonymous faces, but at Priory Lane you are one of five hundred (hopefully more!) and you probably recognise most of those faces if not names. And it's partly about the lack of airs and graces. You can be a professor, a policeman, a pensioner or a padre (we've actually got all of those among our core supporters) but you can leave all the labels at the turnstiles. Once the 3 o-clock whistle blows, there is no escape: you've signed your contract to cheer, applaud, groan and suffer with the rest of us. Enjoy the game, everyone!
Updated 19:29 - 16 Mar 2017 by Kevin Anderson