Firstly, a warm welcome to our relatively near neighbours from South East London - or in fact, you Wings, are you technically in Kent? In the deeper niches of my memory, if I'm correct, Welling United have also been Bexleyheath-and-Welling, and Bexley United, and possibly something else. What hasn't changed an awful lot is their Park View Road ground, or at least half of it hasn't. The proper old main stand takes me right back to visits in the 1960s-70s-80s, and you still have to choose your seat carefully to make sure a solid wooden strut or pillar doesn't impede the view. This isn't a complaint! We are all non-league, and we all believe nostalgia isn't what it used to be. We drink our tea out of earthenware mugs and we hold on tight to our traditions. As I noted on Saturday about Bath's Twerton Park, it's miles better than a flat-pack ground off the back of a lorry. Actually on Park View Road's "far side" - I've truthfully never ventured across there, unsure whether my entrance ticket or my BBC pass would even be valid, is a smart new East Stand which I understand belongs to Erith and Belvedere FC. It's a rather novel take on ground-sharing: this is our side, that's your side, and we both have the bit in the middle.... For a few seasons Park View Road did also acquire an extra unofficial name on the circuit - the San Siro. No, not in tribute to Milan's magnificent stadium, but in deference to the name of the transport cafe next door....
The Sports have mixed memories of DA16 (goodness, I've just realised the club is condemned to adopt a Dartford postcode - that must hurt!). We visited Park View Road in early season, on the hottest day of the year, and we were frankly pretty awful. I suppose the great thing about football, or any team sport, is that it's living and breathing, live and unscripted. You cannot predict whether the next ten minutes, never mind the next game, will produce something brilliant, something bizarre or something boring. We had arrived looking for three points and were sent packing. Credit to the Wings on the night - I think it was their first victory of the season - but Borough do have a point to prove this evening.
BOOTS ON THE GROUND
Now then, and without apology, another reprint from Saturday's Bath City Left Field. We are now just eight days away from hosting the National League representative game against The Army, and it really does deserve your support. Here's what I wrote on Saturday:
Borough's next home game - or not - 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 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 deploying in Afghanistan 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.
Some supporters have wondered about the make-up of the League team on the night. Tommy is the man in charge, as you know, but I suspect his phone might be busy as he finalises the squad. For a number of clubs, these are crucial weeks of the season as they chase honours, and - I'm saying this unofficially of course - one or two players might become maddeningly unavailable. Elliott had originally been named, but he no longer qualifies, since the League wishes the team to be drawn entirely from National South clubs. Anyway, as the host club, it falls to Borough to ensure all the boots are filled, so you are sure to see a number of your favourites turning out, alongside some notable names from across our division. Danny Mills and the wonderful, ever-smiling Sergio Torres will be very welcome guests, along with the likes of Jake Robinson - and there is likely to be a shirt for the elder statesman of National South, Scott McGleish from Wealdstone. A great gesture.
STUCK IN THE MIDDLE WITH YOU
A semi-final exit against the Albion - although a highly creditable performance in an absolutely thrilling game - mean no Senior Cup Final this year, and a season with a trophy. Disappointing of course, but well above disastrous. Personally I have hugely enjoyed the season so far, with lots of scintillating football on the new 3G, laced with some interesting away trips. Elation at Aldershot; embarrassment at Braintree; four-goal hauls at Stortford, Wealdstone and Hemel; but always whole-hearted effort, intelligent coaching and rarely a dull moment. Think about it: in any division, at any level, most clubs will actually be "mid-table". That's a statistical fact. No complacency, of course, but there are worse places to be.
AROUND THE COUNTY
Meanwhile locally, there are one or two issues to resolve in these final weeks. Bognor Regis Town are locked in an almighty battle with Havant, and I really hope they can make it into our division. Apart from anything, they are working on less than half of Havant's budget, and they are good people with one of the nicest guys on the circuit, Jamie Howell, at the helm. I've a soft spot for Jamie because he actually captained England Schools, including in a match at the Goldstone, at a time when I was England Schools International Secretary. That Goldstone night, incidentally, is one of the fairly few times I've enticed Mrs A to actually attend a football match. The post-match reception and a night at the Grand Hotel had absolutely nothing to do with it, of course.... Hastings United and Lewes are both chasing play-off places and it would be great to see at least one of those fine clubs back where they belong, in the Ryman Premier. Whitehawk seem to have evaded entering the Ryman Prem, too, from the other direction. I personally have not the slightest ill-will towards Borough's local rivals - it just isn't the way that I would run a football club. Even their current squad on the Hawks website lists 28 players, and I should think the season's total is north of 40. Not to mention the six managers... Anyway at least, we are assured of the annual festive derby visit to the Enclosed Ground once again next season.
SHIFTING THE BALANCE
Chatting with my Bath City friends at the weekend, they were reminding me how the geography of National South does them no favours. For the Sports, almost all away trips are no more than two hours or so. For the Romans, it's the other way round. We have our annual trek to Truro plus the two long hauls to Bath and Weston, but otherwise it's manageable for clubs like ours, as long as the National South is weighted towards the south-east. But look out - that centre of gravity may be about to shift just a little. Down from the National may well come Torquay United . Up from the Southern League we might be welcoming Chippenham (ten miles from Bath, as it happens) and/or Merthyr Town. Now, Merthyr used to feel like a world away even from my own home of Gloucester - winding up the road to the Valleys to Penydarren Park and speaking a different language. Add in Hungerford, Poole and Oxford, and there is almost a case for a South West division! A nice excuse for the odd weekend away, at any rate!
RIVALS NOT ENEMIES
And to finish, one more repeat. What I wrote in Saturday's programme seemed to touch a chord, and raised a lot of positive feedback. Thank you. So let's turn it into a little campaign: Rivals, not enemies....
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 (or 7.45) whistle blows, there is no escape: you've signed your contract to cheer, applaud and suffer with the rest of us. Enjoy the game, everyone!
Updated 15:59 - 20 Mar 2017 by Kevin Anderson