Thurrock 1 Hastings United 1 (15 Dec 2012)
Maybe it should have been an omen that within five minutes of setting off under crisp clear skies that gave me enthusiasm for the day ahead, I found myself under a grey cloudy murk that stretched all round the lower half of the M25. Not unusual with the M25, I also hit several patches of moderate traffic congestion. Not good but I suppose it could have been worse was the motto for the day.
It would be perhaps unkind to describe Thurrock’s ground in such a way. I’ve been to plenty far worse, and they have at least made an effort with decent covered terracing on three sides, and a main stand that doesn’t feel sorry for itself. Indeed, on a less gloomy day the place could look quite trim. Larger crowds would help. If only they could attract even a tiny percentage of the thousands that flock to vast Lakeside shopping mall just over the M25, they’d be set for a bright future.
Instead they are one of a number of small part-time clubs in this little corner of Essex doing whatever they can to cling on to every fan they can – even if that involves changing the club name as Thurrock did in 2003. Prior to that they’d been Purfleet, although they are a very new club anyway, only forming in 1985.
I can’t judge the popularity of the move, but it does mean that the Thurrock fans’ reworking of Fairground Attraction’s only No.1 single to be “It’s got to be-ee-ee-ee-eee Purfleet” is either a high-water mark in terrace originality and protesting, or a sad indictment of the lack of irony in today’s youth. Having seen them and the their enthusiasm before (I assume it was them) at Salisbury and Staines previously, I can only say it’s a shame there aren’t several hundred of them, rather than just several.
They spent the game at either of the two covered ends, depending on which goal Thurrock were attacking. Both ends are deep enough to warrant a row of crush barriers, but not quite steep enough to offer a good view. At one end the cover is along the full width, but the other is only roughly the width of the penalty area. This is bookended between the changing rooms on one side, and a green-painted toilet block on the other, looking more like a converted shipping container than a portakabin, although it’s hard to say if that’s an improvement.
One side has a similar covered terrace, albeit without crush barriers, but with the addition of three rows of jarring red seats in one corner. Not fitting in at all with the ground’s overall yellow & green theme, they had an overpowering whiff of “League minimum requirements” emanating from them. Needless to say, they were completely empty throughout the match.
The main stand, on the other side, is built into the steep slope that leads up to the hotel behind. The current ground site used to be in the hotel grounds, so no-one can begrudge the hotel advertising itself to the spectators below. One does have to ask though, with the locale being the home of M25 junction light industry and meeting point of electricity pylons, who exactly was clamouring to stay there?
While the main stand isn’t going to be talked about in the architectural press like the QEII Bridge just a mile behind it, it is quite a nice little thing. The splash of colour from the yellow and green seats adds a bit of life to it, and tucked away at the back are a glazed hospitality room for directors, I presume, and a rather less luxurious press box on the other side. Occupying this today was a radio reporter delivering updates in the same monotone that non-league reporters are seemingly trained to speak in. Somebody could drop a tab of LSD in his half time tea, and he’d be reporting how Thurrock were on top thanks to a glowing winged serpent that breathed the moon before dinking a left wing cross to a gaseous overlapping fullback, who declared time and numbers to be an abstract construct where all scorelines are happening simultaneously rendering it pointless to concentrate on just this dimension, and he’d still announce it like reading train cancellations at Waterloo Station.
In fairness, it wasn’t a game that got many pulses briskly walking, let alone racing, so his lack of excitement wasn’t surprising. To be honest, I’m not sure if the 37th minute opener for Thurrock really was the first genuinely exciting thing to happen in the match, but there are 89 year old Alzheimer’s sufferers who can recall more from shopping lists from 1968 than I can about this game. It just seemed than in about the first decent move of the game, a ball on the break played in a Thurrock player in the right hand side of the box. Clearly being a left-footer, he went for a shot across the keeper with his left. It was too near the keeper, who probably should have save it, but it was hit with enough power to find the net.
The visitors, Hastings, could probably be excused for looking a little tired. Just 40 hours before kick-off, they were just finishing reaching the FA Cup 3rd round after beating Harrogate on penalties, and it’s hard to imagine them celebrating with an orange juice and an early night. Luckily for them a Thurrock player thought it best to liven things up a little. He did this by deciding to see if he could send a Hastings player into the stand using just his footwear. Not only was the answer “not quite”, he picked up a pesky red card for his troubles.
With the home side down to 10 men, it was a case of seeing if they could hang on. They couldn’t. Hastings weren’t exactly peppering the Thurrock goal with shots, but they were having a lot of pressure. One burst saw a ball into the box and a shot blocked by the keeper. It wasn’t pushed away though, and it fell kindly for a Hastings player to side-foot in from more or less the same spot where his side had gone behind.
From there it might have been reasonable to have expected Hastings to look more likely to go on and win, but it reality neither side looked like doing so. Thurrock probably had the best chance, with a very late effort that was dragged across goal by an apology of a shot.
And that was pretty much that. Not great, but at least I saw two goals. It could have been a heck of a lot worse.