Westleigh Park, Havant
For a variety of reasons, at half time, this didn’t really feel like the kind of fixture with which to kick-start dubSteps once more after its de facto winter break. It’s been a long hiatus as in the last couple of months I’ve built up such a record of absenteeism you’d assume the WLP big kids had, prior to, been stealing my tea-bar money and calling me names.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Unless you include husband-and-wife banter team Malc & Aly occasionally remembering to call me Skiffy Doodle Gumdrops III (which has morphed as a reference in the years following this evening long ago). That’s not really enough to keep me hiding under the duvet for ten weeks though. Indeed, I actually quite like it as extended nicknaming goes. No, like a nervous debuting stand-up, I have been hamstrung by the timing. Other commitments and circumstance have kept me away from fixtures that have gone ahead, then when I have been ready and raring to rock up, referee’s have been issuing details of their pitch inspection whilst thigh-deep in our currently rather distressed playing surface.
Snow, ice, rain, collapsed drains – the four horsemen of the postponepocalypse – we’ve had ‘em all in recent weeks. So it’s perhaps no surprise that people have got out of the habit and our first sub-600 Saturday afternoon league crowd in almost two years was tallied, albeit not helped by the fact that Boreham Wood have virtually no travelling support with which to announce themselves in their first season at Conference South level. Thus, the atmosphere was about as charged as an iPad trying to work off a single hearing aid battery.
Of course, a crowds get up and go is never helped by some pretty awful football to watch and the first half was only notable, sadly, for our midfielder Bobby Hopkinson going down after a tackle screaming “I’ve broken my leg, I’ve broken my f**king leg”. Apparently this was the correct diagnosis and so will be absent for a good while. Of course, squad depth issues mean nothing when you have to witness a player writhing around in genuine agony and it was relatively heartening that he was able to give us a wave from his stretcher as we piped him off the field in the customary manner.
Whether it was a case of saying “let’s do this for Bobby and Manny” (Manny Williams being at home in Sierra Leone following the death of his father) at half-time or not, I can’t tell you, but rather than being demoralised, we came out with an extra level of energy. Ian Selley should perhaps have been awarded a penalty when he was tripped in the box and Ian Simpemba had a header saved by their Latvian under-19 international keeper Elvijs Putnins but eventually our pressure was rewarded with a goal.
It was one of those great headers where the cross (in this case from Mustafa Tiryaki) was so exact you could tune a piano with it, and the ball was met at the ideal angle by a man (here read: Giuseppe Sole) in the middle rising like a randy salmon. This was a real lift for the spirit after a difficult couple of months where those fixtures that have gone ahead have seen no wins, and our great work in October being undone.
Good times, but still fairly standard as games go. ‘They’ll probably equalise’ we thought and we were right but this gave rise to one of those genuine football curios. For a start, we Hawk choristers found ourselves chanting “Boreham Wood, Boreham Wood, Boreham Wood” at one point. Chanting the name of the opposition only tends to happen when non-league clubs are being lauded for their pluck after being handed out a sound thrashing by a well-supported professional outfit in the Cup. Yet here we were, in a run-of-the-mill lower-half-of-the-table league fixture doing just that, only not to salute their huff-and-puff, but as acknowledgement of honour satisfied.
Having kicked the ball out so that our defender Sam Pearce could receive treatment, Boreham Wood threw the ball back in so that Mario Noto could follow football etiquette (unwritten, but in the subsection above that regarding doilies in the dressing room) and kick the ball back to us. Whether he meant it or not, his looping larrup caught Aaron Howe off guard, the ball bouncing over his head and into the far corner.
Despite his side being amongst the relegation places, Wood manager Ian Allinson didn’t want it this way and immediately instructed his players to allow us to walk one in from the kick off. Some of them were less than happy about this directive with one or two making their protest known by stepping in front of and harrying Wes Fogden as he weaved through their more acquiescent and statuesque hands-on-hips team-mates, like a King Charles Spaniel dancing through the weave poles at Crufts, before slotting home.
So, a remarkable and largely ideal way to celebrate my first return to H&W watching since November 15th and our first win since, well, November 15th. I don’t want to labour that coincidental point other than to say, ‘My people! I am the bringer of the light!’