About the Village Glass Stadium Basic yet functional sums up the Spicer McColl Stadium. Plenty of cover from the elements with an old main stand with three rows of seating. Two steps of concrete terracing elsewhere. The snack bar is set in its own grounds behind the pitch with a nice decked area and the club house is only accessible from outside the ground. How to get to the Village Glass Stadium Follow the A12 eastwards, passing the exits for Chelmsford. Take the exit for the B1389 s/p Witham and follow signs for Town Centre. When you reach traffic lights after just over a mile take a left into Spinks Lane. Follow to end and take a right into Highfields Road. Pass under railway bridge at then take a left opposite entrance to Asda for the ground. There is plenty of parking at the ground. If you are coming from the east then take B1389 from other direction, eventually turning right at the traffic lights into Spinks Lane. If you are coming by train then alight at Witham then take a left at the of the station approach into Collingwood Road, Do a right at roundabout (still Collingwood Road) and follow, bearing to the right as the road splits and you follow Guithavon Valley. When you reach the church do a right and walk through the park, under the railway line and bear left around Asda. The ground will be opposite you. Admission to the Village Glass Stadium £10 for Adults, £5 for Concessions. Programmes priced £2 are available at the gate. Our last visit – September 2014 Every Non-League club starts the season with a dream of progression in the FA Cup. For the players it is the thought of walking out at a Premier League (or Championship) ground, or pitting their wits against professional players. For managers it is the thought of adding a famous scalp to their CV. For the fans it is the thought of supporting their team in places or against clubs they would never have thought of and for the club owners it is the thought of the pot of gold that grows with every win. More often than not all of those dreams are brought crashing down to reality by the end of September, with 540 clubs already “concentrating on the league”. For those that have progressed from the Extra Preliminary Round, played in late August, the chances of them making it through three rounds is less than ten percent (7.3% based on last season to be precise). However, those odds didn’t frighten us as we headed up the A12 to Witham for the second time in just seven weeks. Back in August we were undone by a stand-in referee who seemed to have forgotten his cards (and rule book) and a pitch that looked as if it had gone through the same type of treatment as an Elton John hair weave, coming away with a point from our opening game. Since then it has been a story of injury, suspension and some down-right poor refereeing. Yes, we can all find excuses to explain our poor league form but this is the FA Cup. Success is simply based on progression. As a club we never budget for cup runs. That would be a foolhardy approach, although many clubs fact in a win or two and the associated prize money into the budget. An away draw is never a good thing at this stage in the competition (in most instances). Despite the clubs sharing the gate receipts, attendances tend to be much lower in the cup than in the league. It seems that the magic of the FA Cup fades in the Extra Preliminary Round these days. It seems that someone at the FA seems to have it in for Lewes when it comes to home FA Cup draws. Out of 25 initial games we have played in the competition in the past decade (not including replays) we have been drawn at home only 8 times and only once in the past four seasons (eight ties). The good news is that we have a higher than 50% win rate on our travels in the cup. What could possibly go wrong today? However, whilst we still believed in the magic of the FA Cup, has it disappeared elsewhere? On Non-League day back in early September over 2,800 squeezed into Champion Hill to see Dulwich Hamlet take on Hampton & Richmond Borough, one of the biggest attendances in the Ryman Premier League for many-a-year. Seven days later they hosted Worthing in the First Qualifying Round of the FA Cup yet only 489, including a fair few from the South Coast, watched the game. In Manchester, England’s biggest fan-owned Non-League club, FC United of Manchester struggled to break the 1,000 mark for their tie against Prescott Cables, almost 50% down on their average Evostik Premier League crowd. Likewise on the same day at Nywood Lane, just over 400, with a significant following from Lewes, watched Bognor Regis Town’s local derby. Last season the corresponding league game saw 603 watch the Boxing Day game. Football doesn’t exactly get the pulses racing in these parts – in fact the sheer number of clubs playing at this level in the area probably hinders rather than helps them. Just a short drive away from the Village Glass Stadium there is Heybridge Swifts, Maldon & Tiptree, Burnham Ramblers and Ryman League North new boys, Brightlingsea Regent. However, surely the whole village of Witham (population 25,532) would be out supporting their side today? Who knows, perhaps the town’s most famous residents, Olly Murs and Dotty Cotton would come along, rattle in hand to cheer on the The Town? I don’t think so but the FA Cup can do strange things to teams and their fans. After Wednesday night’s game against VCD Athletic, it was hard to see how Lewes could actually put a team out based on the number of injuries they had. I think it was touch and go whether Garry Wilson considered giving me the nod although my knee operation on Monday would have put pay to my long-overdue FA Cup debut. However, the Lewes Lunatic Fringe would be out in force, putting the indifferent league form to one side and dreaming of a home tie against East Preston in the next round. The script was all but written. Witham Town 4 Lewes 2 – The Village Glass Stadium – Saturday 27th September 2014 What did I write earlier? Ah yes, “What could go wrong?” Well how about everything! The FA Cup holds no magic on days like these. Played off the park by a team who had 10 men for a third of the game, scoring one of our goals because an idiot of an official decided to give a penalty (to us) for an offence that nobody in the ground saw and seeing players bicker with each other. It wasn’t a good day. Take nothing away from Witham – they kept their shape, played to their strengths, were as hospitable as they come and their goal-keeper once again got stuck into the banter with us from the first whistle – Martyn Guest always a pleasure. Thirty minutes after the final whistle, the Lewes team were still sat on the pitch, taking part in an “interactive” heart to heart. Under normal circumstances this was a bad day, but defeat in a winnable game cost the club £4,500 in prize money as well as the possibility of a decent home tie in the next round. Whether all of the players really understood what was at stake when the game kicked off is unclear. However, Lewes started sharply and should have been ahead early doors when Terry Dodd flicked an effort over the bar. Boysie, the club snapper, turned up late. We pretended that we were already 1-0 up, all sticking to our story. Of course he didn’t believe us, and soon we were 1-0 down. One became two when Brinkhurst clattered into a Witham forward in the area. No question that it was a penalty, although the referee, who whilst he didn’t impact the final score was as poor as you will see at this level, booked Rikki Banks for kicking the ball back to the centre circle which hit a Witham player on the way. He soon angered the home fans by giving a penalty to Lewes – I cannot even speculate what it was for as no one saw any offence. Dixon stepped up and made it 2-1 at the break. One bright spot for the travelling Lewes fans was the appearance of Jack Walder at the start of the second half. Walder had been out since he dislocated his ankle at Thamesmead Town back in March and his return would surely lift the team? Alas a few minutes later a mix up between Brinkhurst and Banks that will be a cert on one of those crap “guffs” DVDs voiced by Chris Moyles gave Witham a 3-1 lead. Three one? Make that four minutes after the home side were reduced to ten men. Game over, start the bus. We still had time to miss a couple of sitters before Blewden pulled a goal back to make the score line a little more respectable. But this defeat hurt. More so than any other game this season. Not just for the financial consequences but because of the performance. The magic of the FA Cup certainly wasn’t floating around the Lewes dressing room today. So Witham Town join a growing list of teams who have embarrassed the Rooks in recent years in the FA Cup. Still, there is always the Ryman League Cup to look forward to. August 2014 It’s a glamorous life sometimes. Commonwealth Games one week, the luxury of being a guest in an executive box at the Schalke Cup, a visit to see the New York Cosmos and then hobnobbing with the world’s press fawning over Gareth Bale in the Super Cup final. Hard life, some may say. But I’d swap it all for a bit of Non-League action. Well, maybe not all of it. So sandwiched between the MetLife Stadium, New Jersey and the Cardiff City Stadium, in er Cardiff, is a trip to the Village Glass Stadium, Witham. I can imagine your thoughts are racing, heartbeat speeding up and a few more butterflies fluttering in your stomach. Or is it just me. The new Ryman Premier League season is upon us once more and The Mighty Rooks are on the road on day one, travelling down the A12 to visit newly promoted Witham. Let’s get the main fact about ‘The Town’ out of the way early shall we? Olly Murs once graced the turf here in his pre-billy big balls days. Few Non-League teams can boast an X-Factor runner-up as one of their old boys but that’s no excuse for playing his songs as part of the pre-match entertainment. That would just be cruel on us visitors. Just like those 100,000 Chelsea fans who were all in the Allianz Arena two years ago when they won the Champions League, thousands of Murs fans saw him make his September against Waltham Abbey six years ago and double that witnessed his one and only goal for the club a week later at Potters Bar Town. Perhaps one day there will be a Louis Tomlinson-style take over the club (or not)? Stranger things have happened. After a shaky couple of pre-season results, the Rooks new-look team began to gel, earning very credible draws against big sides like Eastbourne Borough and Charlton Athletic. Oh, and Whitehawk. However, the side that would take the field today against Witham would look very different due to injuries to key players like Jack Walder, still getting back to full fitness after his horrific injury at Thamesmead in March, and the impressive Henry Muggeridge. Also missing in the centre of the park would be the suspended Jack Dixon. Still we always had Fraser Logan as cover there….except judging by his Instagram snaps, Fraser was a few hundred miles away in a sunny beach with his family. That is of course unless it was Clacton-On-Sea rather than Kos. We were also going to be missing our physio Natalie who chose to get married instead of working at our game last week at Eastbourne. Priorities, eh! This is the best Saturday of the year in Non-League calendar. All of the hopes and dreams of a record-breaking season are still alive at 2.59pm – longer in a number of cases. The sun is shining, the banter is fresh, we can excuse a bad pass or two and even Terry’s jokes are bearable. We all know that it will never last and soon we will be caught up in a spiral of frustration as our dreams, in the words of many a West Ham fan, “fade and die”. My long journey to Essex started at midnight when I boarded a flight from JFK to Heathrow. Six hours later and I was kissing the tarmac in London. If only our transport network was so efficient. Three hours, FIVE trains later and I was back at TBIR Towers. A short re-introduction to the family and I was back in the car, this time re-acquainting myself with the M25 as it crawled at 10 miles per hour north. When I eventually arrived at the, deep breath, Village Glass Stadium, I had spent six hours travelling since landing early. But I’m sure come 5pm it would all be worth it. Witham Town 1 Lewes 1 – The Village Glass Stadium – Saturday 9th August 2014 You can look at this result in one of two ways. Any draw away from home when the conditions aren’t suited to your style of play and you have a number of key players missing, is a good result. Alternatively, you can look at the balance of play and the fact you had the best chances and go away disappointed. On the whole I would say that our view moved from the latter at full time to the former on the long journey home a view shared by the Lewes Manager, Garry Wilson twenty minutes after the final whistle. We all gathered in hope behind the goal as the Lewes team, wearing their new “bright” kit that brought Barcelona so much luck a few seasons ago. The pitch, to coin a James Boyes, was like a “deep shagpile carpet made of straw”, seeming to be suffering from the effects of the sun so early in the season. Lewes had managed to extract Fraser Logan from a bar in Kardamena at 3am and he anchored the midfield, allowing the new strike force of Blewden and Dodd to run the two centre-backs ragged in the first twenty minutes. Both defenders were yellow carded for heavy tackles in the first half an hour, one of which forced Ross Treleaven out of the game, adding more woes to our midfield situation. Lewes started well, using Wheeler on the wing to get behind the defence and putting the balls into the box for Dodd and Blewden although their efforts were well saved by the Witham keeper, who was firmly in the banter bracket, enjoying giving as good as he got with the travelling fans. Nothing nasty, all good-hearted and of course he was clapped off the pitch by us all at the end of the game. The club had recently had the bad news of the death of their chairman and he would have been proud to see how resolutely they played in the remainder of the half. The home side should really have scored themselves when Ryan Blackman blazed over the bar from eight yards out with the goal at his mercy. After a swift slice of cake, served with a cheeky smile by the ladies in the boardroom we were back at it. Finally Lewes broke the deadlock when Dodd’s effort was blocked and strike-partner Blewden smashed it home from close range. Alas, the lead just lasted seven minutes when Banks hesitated and Godbold headed home. Witham were now holding their own, looking dangerous when they came forward and being cheered on by the hundred or so home fans. The drama was over though. As the clock ticked towards the 90th minute a high ball over the top of the Witham defence saw Nathan Crabb get in from of Ruel who appeared to deliberately run into the Lewes forward felling him in the penalty area. The Witham defender, using every trick in the book stayed down until the referee stopped play as Lewes were preparing another assault on the Town goal. That was the last chance. The Rooks had to make do with a point, coming away from Essex with another injury that will hamper team selection for the two games coming in the next week against AFC Hornchurch and Billericay Town, two sides who tend to play on the physical side. But football is BACK. Who cares about traffic jams, delayed trains and bobbly pitches. The season is well and truly underway once again. Our last visit – February 2013 Looking around for a game to go to on Saturday morning I took inspiration from my daughter, who was happily playing with her Moshi Monsters (21st century version of Weebles in my view) singing to herself about her Heart Skipping a Beat. “Where should I go today, Bella?” “I know, let’s all go to Witam!” I had no idea where she was talking about, unless she was referring to Witton, which of course we all known is just a part of Northwich and home to Witton Albion. So I asked her why she had suggested such a strange thing. “Oh my Goodness, me and you – the Army of Two – let’s go to Witham! I know you are Busy, and you know I am a bit of a Troublemaker but Please Don’t Let Me Go to Ikea with Mum. I’m wearing my Heart on My Sleeve and I want to go with you” At this point my eldest daughter came in the room and gave her little sister a round of applause. It appeared that they had a childish competition to see who could get the most song titles from one artist in one sentence. I mean, what a ridiculous game. Who on earth would play a game like that, especially in a national newspaper report (let’s move on quickly). I Still had no idea who she was trying to refer to. “Dad, you are so square. She is talking about Olly Murs” Of course, Olly Murs, I said, pretending I knew more about the cheeky chap than the fact he wore a silly hat everywhere. Apparently her little speech had six of Olly’s “greatest hits” in and I am proud to say I knew none of them. It seemed that Littlest Fuller was a bit smitten with Olly and was keen to go to where he lived to see if he was about. Not as much as some chap from One Direction mind. It seems the latest trend in the life of a 9/10 year old girl is to change your surname to the boy band member you “love” the most. So my daughter was currently referred to by her friends as Mrs. Tomlinson. Honestly, kids of today. Of course I initially said “no” to such a flight of fancy, but then I realised that she was talking about Witham (but with the slient ‘h’ of course) and not Witton. Hmm….Witham. Home of Witham Town. Ryman League North. Never been there. And they are at home. Could I? Should I? Would I? Oh yes. To be most famous for the birthplace of an X-Factor run up didn’t fill me with much hope that a cultural afternoon in Witham was high on the agenda. It does, of course, have the River Brain (one of my favourite British River’s along with the Mint and the Biss) and is the home to Britain’s 150th busiest train station, but nothing to really amuse a nine year old. However, I had a trump card up my sleeve for my Olly Murs-loving daughter. “Why don’t we go and see where he used to play football?” She hates football but I had pushed her into a corner. She wanted a tour of Olly’s haunts, and Witham Town was one of those. Apparently, according to Wikipedia anyway so it probably isn’t true, Olly played for “The Town” before he made the, ahem, “big time”. Sometimes I am a bad bad Dad. So in the TBIR Taxi we climbed and down the A12 we went, pulling up outside the Spicer McColl Stadium. “Oh look, what a co-incidence. There is a game on! Let’s go in to see if Olly is watching. He loves football”. Of course he wouldn’t be there but I think I could buy myself at least an hour of her checking every single one of the 100 or so fans who would be watching the game versus AFC Sudbury before she realised she had been tricked. And when that moment came I had armed myself with 3 (three!) Kinder eggs for her to have. As I said, sometimes I am a bad, bad Dad. So what can I tell you about Witham Town? Well, they have had a bit of a yo-yo existence between the Isthmian and the Essex Senior Leagues in the past decade. Last season they were promoted again as Champions of the County and took their place once more in the Ryman League, reforming their triangle of local derbies with Heybridge Swifts and Maldon & Tiptree. This is a hotbed of Non League football, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise and whilst Witham can boast Olly Murs as a former player, Heybridge could boast Dean Holdsworth as one of their Alummi. They also have dug outs situated the furthest apart I have ever seen, essentially level with each penalty area. Any fourth officials working here must hate it, having to cover more distance than most of the players. The season so far for Town had been relatively positive. Seventh place coming into the game, but probably too far away from the top five (ironically with Maldon & Tiptree and Heybridge Swifts in there already) for a play off push. This was almost a local derby for visitors AFC Sudbury. Despite being “over the border” in Suffolk, relatively local matches are few and far between and so they were sure to bring a few fans to cheer on their side, who a few years ago would have hoped to have been seriously challenging for promotion themselves instead of a mid-table position. The Spicer McColl Stadium was easy to find. Round the back of the town centre, once you see Asda, turn left and its next to the railway line. In fact any trains passing by could have an excellent view of the game. Handy to know if there is ever a big cup game here and they can simply park the train, rather than the bus, on the railway lines and watch the game from there. It was also freezing. Really freezing. Ten pounds later (admission, golden goal, raffle) and we were in. Functional sums up the ground. Certainly no lack of cover from the rain and a small main stand, featuring a fantastic glass press box that could seat 2 people at best. Dog in ground (tick), man with radio pressed to ear (tick), player’s Mum telling her son to “wrap up warm out there” (tick). Almost time for kick off then. One lone Witham Town fan was behind the goal, standing with his own proud display of flags. He was the loudest fan I think I had ever heard. He never gave up supporting his team through the game, despite feeling a bit isolated. Cometh the hour, cometh the referee and the players. Showtime. Witham Town 1 AFC Sudbury 1 – The Spicer McColl Stadium – Saturday 23rd February 2013 The game was a tale of penalties. Ones that were given, ones that were scored, ones that were missed and ones that were blatantly ignored by an inept official. It is interesting to watch games like these where I have absolutely no clouded allegiance to see how bad some referees are. This chap had 45 minutes to forget. It started as early as the second minute when a home player was hit from behind in the area by a Sudbury player quite a few seconds after the ball had been played. Commentators would say to an incident like this “it was too early in the game to give it”. Bollocks. Time is irrelevant. It was a penalty, pure and simple. To make matters worse AFC Sudbury went up the other end and a softer challenge on one of their players in the area led to the referee pointing to the spot. These decisions do not “even themselves” out. However, the Sudbury player struck the penalty against the post, and then the rebound was also struck against the same post, with a reassuring thud that could be heard at the other end of the ground. Had justice been served? Probably. Just five minutes later we had another penalty decision. This time the referee saw a challenge in the Sudbury box that was marginal and gave the home side a penalty which they didn’t make any mistake from. 1-0. The Witham fans behind the goal went into overdrive. The remainder of the half was played out in a relatively bad tempered way. The officials simply had no idea how to control a game that was full of niggly tackles and dissent. Consequently both teams felt like they were trying to physically beat each other rather than play a game of football, and the officials were powerless to do anything about it. Time and time again players from both sides confronted the officials yet no action was taken. This is where the League’s focus on the whole Respect campaign and the associated league tables they publish falls down. Some referees I have seen this season would have sent players off for less than I saw here, yet here was one who was not prepared to take any action. With half time approaching Sudbury drew level. A free-kick from the right was headed on to the far post and Cowley nodded into an empty net. Offside? Quite possibly but that would need an official to be up with play, which he wasn’t. Certainly when the initial ball was delivered the Sudbury players were onside. After a brief respite from the cold in the bar we returned for the second half. I had hoped that the referee may re-assess his approach to the game to allow it to improve but alas he didn’t. With just over an hour gone and with a dinner date with the Current Mrs. Fuller to keep I departed. Well, I say dinner date. I had agreed to meet her at Ikea in Thurrock at 5pm. Hang on…Thurrock….That is near East Thurrock, no? And Lewes were at East Thurrock. What a co-incidence! Perhaps we could catch the last 15 minutes there….and perhaps a brief drink in the boardroom. Twenty minutes later we pulled up in Corringham, home of East Thurrock. It seemed cheer was very thin on the ground here too. Lewes were losing 1-0. In fact there was really little point in actually coming here at all. We always lose 1-0 here. Twice last year (once in the cup) and always due to a contentious penalty. Today, once again, it appeared that the officials had got it all wrong, with Lewes keeper Thorp being penalised for a foul that even the home keeper said he saw was yards outside the area. The fifteen minutes I saw was not pretty. In fact Lewes had played ten times better on Monday in their 6-1 defeat at Wealdstone. These are worrying times for the Rooks and with the game against second bottom Carshalton Athletic on Tuesday now bigger than ever. Full time in Corringham, and a quick peak at the scores elsewhere saw that we had missed nothing else at Witham. A trip to Ikea had never seemed so exciting!