West Leigh Park, Havant
I do wonder if sometimes I'm a little too romantic when scribbling about the H&'Dub., everything getting tinted with rose at the peaks, as black as burnt toast in the troughs. That said, I would suggest, keen as I am to blow my own French horn, that two of my better pieces of atmospheric writing thus far on this site concerned our FA Cup first round tie with Millwall last November and the play-off semi-final second leg last May. However there is a common denominator there that troubles me. What connects these games is the end result. This season, god willing, I’ll be able to sketch out for you something other than gallant defeat.
That Braintree should appear in that brief list in terms of a result that scooped out my innards and threw my fresh entrails back in my face like sand from a bully’s foot is, in some respects, a bit of an anomaly. Often after a match, you might weigh up the relative positives by suggesting you’d have a taken a draw before the start, but when it comes to the Hawks and the Irons, the post-match dissection can quite easily be brought forward to become part of your pre-match ritual along with a pint and a pie. Y’see, when it comes to these two sides, a low- or no-scoring draw comes as a certainty so solidly cast-iron, you could anchor a trawler with it. So much so, I’m surprised fans of either side bother to turn up anymore, and that’s not even taking into consideration the bristling animosity that developed last season. Believe me, after you read the next paragraph you’ll understand that Dennis Strudwick, who compiles the Conference fixture lists using pen and paper rather than a computer, must have a seriously perverted wit considering he pulled this one out of his freshly sharpened graphite as a seasonal icebreaker.
So, yes, the corresponding fixture to this last season: Well, firstly, four people were sent off or to the stands (including both managers), which in turn led to a series of incidents that included the away dressing room at West Leigh Park getting smashed up like a cock-rocker’s hotel suite; a spirited rally of claims and counter-claims of alleged responsibility for said damage; then, eventually, complete exoneration for Havant & Waterlooville and a two month ban (an extra four months suspended) from involvement with football for Braintree’s famously volatile gaffer, George Borg. On their website, there remains no mention of this ban, nor any apology for the scandalous bad-mouthing of our club that was filtered throughout the league by way of a smokescreen. Yet, they went on to win that play-off penalty shoot-out between us. Mmm. If karma does exist, it takes its fackin’ sweet time to kick in.
Anyway, with that off my chest, all I could hope for prior to kick-off was that, maybe, things might run a bit smoother this season. That thought was dashed pretty much straight away as news came through that Braintree had been held up in the heavy traffic build-up at Hindhead. Eventually they rolled up at 3:20, Borg barrelling through the gate and straight down to the changing-rooms, looking as unperturbed as a pot-smokin’ dolphin at being squarely in the middle of his eight-week ban. His team looked similarly nonchalant, seemingly ignoring the per-minute fine accumulated by late away sides as they ambled about the pitch still in their travelling gear like a parade of ball-scratchers at an office block fire-alarm car park loiter.
Only some Armani whistles of questionable hue away from being a Cup Final walkabout it may have been but, still, our programme editor was relatively pleased about it, being that they were combining their leisurely stroll with a read of his first tome of the season. A fine choice of reading matter indeed, but they could only have taken the piss more if they’d rolled out with a Harry Potter hardback and an iPod Shuffle jammed into their lugs.
Eventually, after they deigned to do some proper warming up, we got going at quarter-to-four, and just like all the times before it was largely a tale of two well-drilled defensive units, but then we always knew it would be this way. It’s like watching the EastEnders repeat on BBC3 having already watched it a couple of hours before on One - ultimately unfulfilling, and now far too familiar. That said, you’re also guaranteed a spark of needless aggro with the ‘Enders n’all, and so it is with these fixtures. Robbie Martin crashed into Justin Gregory midway through the second half, getting a big chunk of a fist panini by way of reward, which led to a 21-man dust-up on the touchlines (our keeper Kevin Scriven seemingly the only cool-head on a dog-hot ol’ day, his counterpart Nicky Morgan covering a fair number of yards to get some action) and red cards for the original miscreant pair*.
At least ol’ George couldn’t get himself involved in this one, being that he was making some concessions to his censure, remaining in the stand throughout the game and during the break. Word from the stand has it that the Braintree side received a half-time team-talk through a speakerphone, but I say tish to these scurrilous rumours. They might easily have been taking a good luck call from the new incumbent Prime Minister, or maybe the 2007 Miss Braintree, for all we knows. I am also prepared to defend the right of Mr. Borg to gossip on his mobile to his mates during a game, and for Braintree’s first team coach to do, coincidentally, the very same thing whilst in his technical area.
Cynical types might suggest that they were indeed talking to each other but even if so, couldn't it be that they were merely gassin' like teenagers on a street corner? After all, even if you had been passing, could you honestly swear, if pressed, that you heard "tell Billy he’s giving them too much fackin’ width" rather than "What do you mean you're not on Facebook yet, you loser? Tammy Harding's on there, and she's hot for you man, I'm telling you"?
*Justin Gregory’s sponsors would not like to distance themselves from his actions as they do not feel they have been, in any way, brought into disrepute.
They never had any repute to begin with.
Havant & Waterlooville website
Braintree Town website