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Non-league Football

The Silent H

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.

8501817584_2f35b1ab3f_b“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.

8501953964_56f1cfd2dd_bSo 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.

8500835577_538b73fc29_bDog 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.

8500840589_519dc4c59b_bHowever, 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.

8500702417_edddfca50e_bTwenty 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!


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