Uxbridge 3 Tooting & Mitcham United 2 (23rd October 2021)
This wasn’t the first time I’d turned up at Uxbridge’s Honeycroft ground. The previous visit though, was to a suspiciously empty car park, to find the game had been called off an hour earlier. Today, with “a bit cold and cloudy” rarely being sufficient grounds for a postponement, there was no danger of that, and the car park was indeed full of cars there for the day. Saying that, the MX5 next to mine, with heavy condensation inside and four completely flat tyres, looked to have been there a little longer.
Despite being top of the table, Uxbridge find themselves fighting local apathy as well as the other teams in the division. Their previous five home games had averaged just 67 fans, and even with a fair contingent from Tooting & Mitcham, a season best crowd of 104 shows the difficulty they have attracting fans. At least the bar takings would have been up, where I was able to briefly discuss the merits of a slow poured Guinness with the barmaid, before setting down to watch the tail end of Norwich doing their biennial trick of being swatted back to the Championship like a Roger Federer backhand, with Chelsea putting seven past them. The match programme was now online, available on your phone by scanning some QR code on the wall. It’s not difficult to see why, but’s it’s not the same.
The low crowd, even if good for Uxbridge, didn’t really have the place buzzing as kick-off approached. It was made all the more sombre by the announcement over the PA that the chairman, Alan Holloway, has passed away two days before. A minute’s applause was observed before kick off for a chairman who had been at the helm for 30 years.
His legacy is a club that despite support struggles, is pushing for promotion to the Isthmian League Premier division, in a ground with cover on all four sides. True, it’s not going to win many awards for beauty, being somewhat functional, but it does have the odd quirk. The seated stand opposite the main stand, for example, follows a natural dip on that side, rather than being levelled flat, making it look like the roof is sagging with effort. The main stand has a bit of character, with the main boardroom and clubhouse being a fair distance behind. Signs in this “gap” pointed towards toilets that neither I nor another fan could find. Either we were both very unobservant, or they were suggesting you went behind one of the bushes on this side.
Maybe most quirky was amount of wooden fencing, including the perimeter fence, which almost managed to add a shade of rustic charm in the middle of what had seemed on the drive in, an otherwise charmless industrial estate. To the south, the odd rumble of jets departing Heathrow’s northern runway, about a mile to the south, could occasionally be heard.
Uxbridge had won all five previous home games, and Tooting had lost both of their away league games without scoring, so a home win did look on the cards, but it certainly wasn’t as simple as that. If they’d planned to get three points as a tribute to their late chairman, the plan wasn’t really working at first. Uxbridge probably were shading it, and had one disallowed for offside, but Tooting, backed by an enthusiastic knot of supporters definite had that “dangerous” look about them.
With Uxbridge’s attacking play getting increasingly bogged down, it was the visitors who struck first. A break into the box on the left was hit firmly past the advancing keeper to give the away side the lead, and when Tooting’s No.11 was upended in the box after a powerful run, it was starting to unravel badly. The penalty was put away calmly, in front of the travelling fans. “How shit must you be? We’re winning away” they sang, which must have made the Tooting players feel really appreciated.
Overhearing some of those fans talking at half time, they were clearly pleased, but certainly not overconfident of their team holding on, and not without good reason as it turned out.
Within a couple of minutes of the restart it was 2-1. A corner was taken short, then crossed in from a better angle. It was met by a powerful header from six yards out. No chance for the keeper.
For Tooting it was a case of weathering the storm from an Uxbridge side playing with a renewed vigiour and confidence. Tooting were defending pretty well though. Their No.2 was having a good game, winning his battles and being vocal, organising the rest of the back line, but when he got caught the wrong side of an attacker bearing down on goal, desperation got the better of him. The resulting foul saw him have to take the extra long walk back to the changing rooms, 18 minutes before the rest of his teammates.
Hopes Tooting had that they might have held on didn’t last long. From the resulting free kick a shot came in which the away keeper could only watch as it rolled towards the far post. Bouncing off the inside, he might have though he’d got away with it for a second, but with him stranded, it was followed in just inside the opposite post, to level the scores.
Uxbridge really were a on a roll now, looking for the third. It took just another four minutes to arrive. Another set piece, from the side of the box on the left, saw the ball played in towards the back post. Defended and attacker rose to meet the ball, but the attacker’s head was firmest, and Uxbridge had completed a turnaround that maybe only Tooting’s pessimists had predicted.
The only surprise after that was that there were no more goals. Uxbridge certainly looked good value to get a fourth, but it didn’t quite come off. Tooting, labouring away in this, the first Saturday of the season to make the “a tad nippy” bracket, never quite looked like snatching a late equaliser. The win actually kept my home town team, Bracknell, off the top of the table, but maybe it’s fitting that a sad week at the club ended with a little joy. If only they could attract a few more fans, it would seem all the more worthwhile.