DEGREES OF SEPARATION…
It’s supposed to be six, isn’t it? In Village Eastbourne, that is frequently reduced to three or four. Quick example: my better half Mrs A is a keen walker… who particularly enjoys the brisk-pace walks led locally by… Geoff Ferguson… who spends his match-days (when he isn’t brisk-walking) following the Borough and selling programmes… which contain this edition of Left Field… which is written by Mrs A’s husband.
Up for another example? It’s Maidstone United on Tuesday, and I’m driving there with…. Kevin and Maggie Curling… who live in Hankham, next door to… David and Angela… who are godparents to my daughter… who was born on the very same day as…. Simon Johnson…. who moved (rather unsuccessfully) in 2015 from Borough to Maidstone United...
I know what you’re thinking now. This is the second Left Field of the week, and Kevin is struggling to fill it. Nothing could be further (separated) from the truth. Actually what started my thoughts wasn’t particularly the degrees of separation or connection, but the fact that, in Non-League, we are actually all connected. Just flick through the dog-eared volumes of your football memories, and we can all come up with connections to opponents. Players who moved between two clubs. A crazy result when we lost to an offside goal or won with a fluke own goal. The night the coach broke down, and we got there 16 minutes before kick-off and still beat Hampton and Richmond. The appalling curry and chips at Basingstoke, or the real ground coffee at Maidenhead. My mates at Bath City and Gloucester City, with whom I only ever chat in a broad West Country accent, and some of whom I have known for well over fifty years. Your memories may differ, but to you they matter just as much. It’s Non-League, and – in a world of over-hyped stars and overpaid agents and overpriced merchandise – it is real football for real people. Be glad that you’re part of it.
And in that spirit, we welcome Oxford City. Like Borough, a modest outfit who battle along and rely on volunteers and goodwill. Just a couple of summers ago, City overcame a crisis which no club, no community or family should face; but resilience and loyalty saw them through. That’s what I mean about Non-League qualities. Our sympathy and fond memories, too, on the recent death of John Shepherd, a wonderful character and long servant of the club, and an amateur pressman like myself.
Oh and my own degrees of separation? I think I mentioned once before – back in my student days, turning up to watch my mate Eric Metcalfe (City legend) at the old White House Ground, in an Isthmian League game, and emerging heroically to run the line when the lino pulled up injured a few minutes in. No dodgy offsides, either, and I got a steak dinner from Eric’s lovely wife Dolores on the strength of it…
MOVING THE GOALPOSTS…
Some interesting changes, for the new season, to the Laws of the Game – or at least to the way they are applied. Look out for these:
• No attackers permitted in the defensive wall at free-kicks – a wall being defined as three or more defenders
• Goal-kicks become “live” as soon as taken – not as previously, when the ball leaves the penalty area – so an opponent can attack the ball instantly, inside the 18-yard box
• Substituted players must leave the pitch by the closest point on the touchline – so no more showboating or time-wasting as a player strolls right across the pitch, shaking hands with every team-mate and steward he can find…
• Yellow and red cards for coaches in the technical areas (actually, they could previously be cautioned or sent off, but this ruling would be more visible)
• Handball: this one remains confusing and controversial (says well-known refereeing expert K Anderson). Essentially an accidental handball can now be penalised by a free-kick – whereas previously, the letter of the Law specified only deliberate handball. Since referees have been ignoring the deliberate bit for years and decades, this might be just a move to bring the law in line with the practice. But it’s an odd way round, if you ask me. And we are still going to see penalties cheaply given for totally unavoidable handballs…
• At penalties, the goalkeeper must have at least one foot on the line. Fair enough, thinks Kev – except that evidently the law also states that the goalkeeper “must not be moving”. Umm, seriously??
• And I’ve been trying to track this one down, but apparently if the ball hits the referee in open play, we come back for a kind of re-start from the point where it was played.
No, I haven’t mentioned VAR. For that, you can follow the endless discussions on Sky, BT and Match of the Day. When the technology reaches Priory Lane, we’ll let you know! The other interesting development is the trialling of sin-bins at Step Five. Ten minutes in the sin-bin for a range of offences. At the Tonbridge game the other night, the assessor (I know, he’s called an observer now but we still think he’s an assessor really) was telling me it’s been a huge success elsewhere, and it drastically reduces – by up to 75% - the aggressive behaviour of players towards officials. My worry would be the pressure on assistant referees who have to monitor stoked-up sin-binned offenders. Let’s see.
I'm always rather in awe of the sports photographers. They are a very special breed and sometimes rather a race apart, with intense discussions about f11 lenses and soft focus filters. I chuckle quietly at the Eastbourne Tennis every year, when the snappers fill the media room with trunks and suitcases full of gear that would cost an awful lot in excess baggage on Ryanair! And me, I have an old biro, a tatty notebook and a little voice recorder that cost £14.99 from Argos....
So it's lovely to have Nick and Lydia Redman back on board. Our superb dad-and-daughter photographer duo have served the club wonderfully over past seasons, clocking up many miles to away games as well as covering matches here at the Lane. I know they have a lot of other sporting and professional commitments, and we are fortunate to have the services of the Redmans (Redmen? what's the plural?). They re-join an expert pool which includes Jamie Evans, Jane Stokes and Emma Hancox among others. Not to mention David Bauckham, who trumps the lot with his pure poetic photo-essays. Indeed all the snappers who serve the club have terrific expertise as well as utter dedication - well, would you spend a full ninety minutes perched on a tiny stool on a wet and/or freezing cold touchline? Nick and Lydia - give them a pat on the back (but please, not at the very moment they are capturing Charlie's Walker's winning volley....)
FROM THE SAFFS TO WEMBLEY
There are thirteen rounds to battle through in the Emirates FA Cup, and it starts this weekend. In fact it's already started. Along with quite a number of local groundhoppers, I made it to the Saffrons on Friday evening, for Eastbourne Town's away fixture with Bexhill United - no, I haven't got that wrong. Town kindly hosted the tie as Bexhill, technically the home club, cannot use their Polegrove ground in early season because of cricket.
We saw a whole bagful of goals, including the very first goal scored in this season's FA Cup. Just seven minutes in, Jack Shonk struck a powerful free-kick to put the Pirates ahead. The lead lasted a mere three minutes, though, before George Taggart equalised, and then three further goals in an eight-minute spell put Town in control. Bexhill held their own till late in the game, when two further home-I-mean-away goals rounded off a 6-1 Town victory.
ANY NEWS, KRIS?
I've edited this one! I arrived at the Lane for the Oxford City game, blissfully unaware that Kristian and Weronica are already proud parents. Very clever of them, I was saying, to avoid a match day. She had been due on Sunday 11th, but newborn babies don't always obey the rules of course.... And on Thursday night - following a C-section with Kris holding her hand! - little tiny Amaia was welcomed to the world. Sorry if I have the spelling wrong. She is perfect. Amazingly, mother and daughter turned up on Saturday afternoon in time to see Kris score the winner! (well little'un didn't quite register it). We love you two to bits at this football club, and now we wish you both very much love and very happy parenthood! There are two or three others in the current squad who can advise you on surviving sleepless nights: we old'uns still remember them blearily - but I tell you what, it's still one of the greatest joys and privilege of your life.
FILL THE LANE
Finally, I’m loving this #FILLTHELANE initiative. What a huge difference – to finances, atmosphere, everything – if we can get 850 in the ground instead of 550 or 650. Goodness me, do we not have six hundred youngsters in the Borough Youth? Get them through the turnstiles - with, of course, their Mum, Dad and big sister. I know that Shaun Gale has some serious plans, too, to engage the local schools more fully than we done in the past.
And surely, with a really good winning run, we can break the 1,000. Over to Lee, Shaun and the lads, then…. Enjoy today’s game, everyone!