The Beautiful Game
Saturday 10th August 2013
—Hampton & Richmond 1 Margate FC 2 —
It’s funny how certain things can instantaneously fill someone with excitement. For some, it might be hearing a favourite song, or planning a holiday in the sunny climes of Marbella.. My pleasure is much simpler. It’s the first game of the new season.
I could go on about the little things like being back in a football ground for a meaningful fixture, the optimism & hope that’s always present for the first 90 minutes (and can disappear as soon as the final whistle blows) or even seeing a fresh pitch before the elements have their way with it over the season ahead, but chances are you know this already.
After a decent pre-season under our belts (which took us to places like Ashford, Hythe & Chatham to name but a few) as well as beating local rivals Ramsgate over two legs to win the Thanet Cup, my own optimism was sky high with the performances & new players we’d signed.
Phil Walsh from Ebbsfleet, Scott Kinch from Welling, Zac Attwood & Elliot Cox from Hastings Utd, as well as Warren Whitely & Charles Ademeno were the standout new signings for the Gate, all looked impressive during pre-season, particularly Messrs Whitely & Ademeno.
With a new look defence after Dean Pooley & Phil Starkey departed for pastures new, an away opener at Hampton & Richmond was always going to be a stern test.
Setting off from Margate just after 11 with Terry & her uncle Frankie, I was sat next to the youngest fanatical Gate fan I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting (Terry’s son, Arthur) & Frankie’s lad Tom, attired in an incredible Margate retro shirt.
At this point I feel it prudent to mention that I was entrusted with holding a birthday cake that Terry & her husband had baked for our player / manager Craig Holloway. Relieved to say it got there in one piece!
After many roads, many jokes from Frankie which left Terry shaking her head in despair (I thought they were quality myself!) & many sights (cows & parks mainly) we arrived in the leafy climes of Hampton.
Naturally we celebrated our arrival in this well-to-do suburb by opening Frankie’s boot & pumping up our mascot – an inflatable shark by the name of Kevlar. Sadly Kevlar is on his last legs, so will be replaced Tuesday when we play host to AFC Hornchurch.
On entry to the Beveree (Kevlar attracting his fair share of compliments & baffled looks as always!) I bought a matchday programme that informed me that our manager was Chris Kinnear, & our goalkeeper had changed his name from Craig to Garry. Easy mistake to make!
The Beveree was looking plush in the sunshine, Hampton’s fans were friendly & welcoming.. All in all a good setting for the seasons opener. Before long, the players trotted out of the tunnel looking suitably fired up, & the game kicked off.
Early signs were promising, as staying true to our pre-season playing style, we played good, attractive flowing football, creating chances almost at will.
Unfortunately, we also picked up a tendency during our warmup games to let chances go begging & conceding free kicks & penalties.
In the true meaning of Sod’s law, after a good start where we created chances & tested Hampton’s keeper (an affable guy by the name of Rodney – cue the Only Fools & Horses gags!) not long after Ademeno (Charlie henceforth) failed to square the ball to an apoplectic Walshy, we then conceded a soft penalty, as one of their players went over following a challenge from an out-of-sorts Ryan Dolby (who was playing with a chest infection)
Praying for a let off proved fruitless, as Hampton’s Charlie Moone buried the ball in the bottom right hand corner, despite a gallant effort from Hollers to stop it. 1-0 to Hampton.
As sloppiness & frustration crept in towards the end of the half (not helped by a frankly baffling referee) Hampton could’ve made it 2, but for an astounding reflex save from Hollers.
The halftime whistle blew, & as the players trooped off, the general consensus was bewilderment that we should be 1-0 down with the chances we had. Having said that, Hampton looked assured for the most part & dangerous on the break. Clearly, a spark was needed in the second half.
As I traipsed down to the other end with a now deflated Kevlar, I pondered on what the second half would bring. Goals hopefully, as I felt the performance was there.
Midway through the half, a goal duly arrived in bewildering circumstances. A ball to our resident wing wizard Matt Bodkin (Bods) was met with a cheeky flick out to the right where a galloping Joe Vines (Vinesy!) was blazing a trail.
The reason for my general tone of astonishment is that Vinesy is a centre back. At this moment in time, I neither knew or cared why he happened to be an impromptu right winger, as he shouted ‘Walshy!’ & curled a sublime cross over to the aforementioned striker, which was buried in the net with a solid header from 6 yards.
Ecstatic would be the phrase I’d use, as we all went loopy (especially my fellow shark musketeer Dan who celebrated in his usual fashion by nearly crushing my ribs with a bear hug!)
I’d previously mentioned to my travelling companions & anyone who would listen (thanks Steve & Mick!) that I would be pleased with a draw here. However, Gate’s tails were up & clearly weren’t interested in settling for just a point. After an unbelievable show of mental strength & character, we now had Hampton on the rack.
Sometimes, life is so very sweet. And so it proved in this game, where with the second astonishing feat of the afternoon, our substitute Lanre Azeez (having replaced Whitely) in the 90th minute, somehow skinned two Hampton defenders, & with the last bit of space available to him, crossed the ball back, to an onrushing Bodkin who leapt like a salmon (a 5’7 salmon anyway) and met the cross with a perfect header, which crashed in via the underside of the bar.
This was met by sheer delirium by our fans, & indeed Bods, who later said it was the first header he’d scored for 3 years!
A potentially nervy 3 minutes of injury time was composedly seen out by the Blues, & the roar of delight at the final whistle told its own story. A remarkable turnaround & game of two halves, to use the tired cliche!
After the game, Terry presented a delighted Hollers with his birthday cake, & some of the players also partook in her & her better halfs culinary talents.
Meeting a few of the Hampton fans was a great experience, a truly friendly bunch who wished us all the best for the season. A dad & son pairing had some brilliant banter as well, helped along by a Hampton fan by the name of Nina that Terry knew.
The friendliness that exists in non league football is what makes it so special. A great way to cap off my first ever Margate away League game.