Sunday, October 13, 2013

Non League Break

Or as the press would rather call it, an international break. Now I want England to succeed on the world stage as much as the next man, and I got behind the team shouting at the television as loudly as that same 'next' fellow on Friday night, but the highlight of the weekend for me was another opportunity to catch some level nine action at my local side, Horley Town.

Having lived and worked in the town for a number of years now, the well publicised non league day last month was my first and overdue visit to their New Defence ground. Impressed, I followed them the following Saturday to Whyteleafe where I saw them crash out of the FA Cup. Charlton and Sutton have my heart, but Horley Town, and this level of football in particular, have me hooked.

Yesterday saw another window of opportunity arise, a Combined Counties league match against Windsor. The visitors are a relatively new club, formed by the fans only two years ago after Windsor & Eton's demise. The original club incidentally, were a team I watched a couple of times in the late eighties during one of their more successful spells in the Isthmian League.

Following Charlton I've become used to bemoaning players, almost watching for their mistakes, the misplaced pass, the poorly timed challenge, it's watching football of a certain standard and being frustrated when my loyalty isn't rewarded with excellence. Here I'm not expecting greatness, I'm expecting shots that veer towards the corner flag, I'm expecting goal kicks that go off for throw-ins, and yet I'm rewarded for my attendance with passionate football with plenty of flash points and a surprising amount of fluidity, composure, control and skill. How very refreshing to watch football with a positive attitude, enjoying the moments of flair when they come along as opposed to wallowing in the regular moments of despair.

As I said, I saw Horley go out of the FA Cup at Whyteleafe, I'd also seen them go out of the FA Vase against Newhaven, I was keen to see the side record a win. From what I had already witnessed, the ability was there, it was the confidence and belief in themselves that was lacking. Yesterday it was a different side.

Ashley Nadesan put the home side in front after only four minutes, taking the ball around a defender before picking his spot and slotting the ball past the keeper. Great composure. His second was very similar to the first, again his calmness on the ball belied his nineteen years.

Windsor had their centre forward red carded for a second bookable offense during the first period, after a slow start the cards were going to be out at frequent intervals. Late in the match one quick witted supporter questioned the man in the middle's failure to book the floodlights. At a smidgen over five feet tall, the official certainly had a dose of 'small man syndrome'. The linesman on our side of the ground however was old enough to be the referee's dad, with a balding head and pot belly, I wondered if he'd keep up with the pace of the game and true to form he struggled through the second half misjudging more than one decision.

Despite the difference in numbers Horley were good for their first half lead. The visiting supporters were lamenting the officials display as they trudged to the other end of the ground, our turn would come.
Colourful in their number, special mention must go to their flag. As I tweeted during the game, they are certainly punching above their weight in the flag stakes, this large St George's Cross would have happily graced any League One or Two ground.

Horley started the second half brightly and added to their lead on the hour mark, this emerged as the turning point for both the game, and the referee. Horley were also reduced to ten men as the card happy man in black bizarrely gave a second yellow to the Horley number eight. Shaking his head on his way off, it was quite apparent to all that he made no contact with the player at all. This evened the numbers up although tactical substitutions made it feel like Windsor now had the numerical advantage.

At half time Windsor brought on their number 17, Jason Sheehan. He went on to dominate the midfield, their passing was crisper under his influence and his vision was second to none. He read the game superbly whilst not being shy to run at full backs as well. The all round midfielder.

The Horley keeper made a succession of fine saves all afternoon before the visitors finally beat him, just seconds after resuming play at three down. Along with Nadesan and Sheehan, the man in green put in a fair shout for 'man of the match'. Once Windsor had a sniff of goal they continued to press doubling their tally ten minutes later. Horley held on though for the three points, yet both sides came very close to scoring more, the woodwork denying both teams on more than one occasion.

Both sides had characters, Horley's short Geordie number seven standing out with his vocals, the ref warning both sides more than once with a shout of "control the language Gents", but it was passionate football and we felt at times in the middle of the park it could have easily flared up. The Windsor captain appeared to be looking for a fight, the Horley captain (not a chap you'd argue with) pleading with the ref to use a bit of 'savvy'. With a stand/clubhouse on one side, fences on the other three you feel part of the game hearing every word, it's a great insight that you miss sat in a huge stand with thousands of others.

One thing that really stood out for me, on a ground far more exposed to the elements than these huge stadia we see on Match Of The Day, is the lack of gloves etc worn by the players. These are tough working class lads, there wasn't a base layer in sight. I may be wrong but I think even brightly coloured boots were in the minority.

Horley Town's ambition to avoid relegation is far more enthralling to me than England's bid to reach the World Cup. This is proper football and you can bet I'm going to see plenty more of it before the season is through.

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