Egham Town 2 Raynes Park Vale 0 (2nd March 2013)
It was perhaps unfortunate that my route into Egham, via Ascot, took in some of the more expensive and luxurious offerings in the region. When you’ve driven past the truly grand grandstand at Ascot Racecourse, past John Lennon’s old Tittenhurst Park mansion, past Wentworth Golf Club, and past the splendid Royal Holloway College, the bar is set rather higher than Egham’s Runnymede Stadium could hope to manage.
If the odd notice or two is any indication, the place is visited by both vandals and thieves about as frequently as spectators. The result is a ground that does about the best it can, while accepting that few are going to be enticed by the facilities, even with the common lipstick-on-a-pig style tacking of “stadium” onto the name of a place that’s very definitely a “ground”.
Older photographs show the main stand, and the ground overall, decked out in yellow and green, but the place is now mainly decked out in red. Presumably the team changed its colours fairly recently, but unlike Cardiff City who did likewise, Egham’s adoption of red isn’t likely to have been triggered by £100 million of business money from Malaysia. Red paint looks to be about as far as the investment went though, as the main stand looks somewhat worse for wear. The top of the roof fascia has either fallen or been broken off, exposing the slightly buckled roof sheeting behind. The seats themselves are decent enough. Five rows of black seats go quite well with the red colouring, even if the peeling paint on the white wall behind isn’t quite so smart. It also doesn’t help that a small stand such as this still requires six pillars at the front to support it. With wire mesh at the sides, and floodlights at the front close by, finding a seat with a decent view wasn’t easy.
To the side were the first toilets I’ve seen at a football ground, possibly anywhere, where the urinal area was carpeted. Any sense of luxury was tempered somewhat by the carpet being covered in large flakes of peeled off paint, and a whiff of mildew, although I guess it could have been worse.
Rather more appealing was the almost adjacent tea bar, where hot-dogs are still at pre-premier league style prices, in front of which a pair of antique looking turnstiles aged with dignity, even if there was no entrance in that part of the ground.
Behind both goals were a step or two of covered terracing, with battered corrugated sheeting roofs, sporting the odd hole here and there. Next to one roof was a step-ladder. Rather than being the latest thing in steep, if very narrow terracing, this was to allow ball-boys to hop the fence to retrieve balls kicked over, of which there’d be a few.
Both goals were odd in that they sported La Liga style extra-deep nets. As novel as these were, the impression was ruined somewhat by the rope ties behind one goal being too long, making the net look saggy rather than stylish. This end sported the last vestige of yellow and green, with a sign proclaiming it “The Jungle End”, although apart from the overgrown scrub behind, the link wasn’t totally obvious.
The opposite side featured a selection of three similar sections of functional terrace cover, also more than a little frayed around the edges. Offers of cash rewards for convicting vandals go a long way to explain the less than pristine condition of the place, although at least one vandal did perhaps offer the most enigmatic piece of graffiti I’ve seen, just pondering “Egham ?” on the back wall.
Upon enquiring about buying a programme at the turnstile, I was advised not to bother as it was a bit of an embarrassment, even for just £1, but the guy let me have one for nothing anyway. Considering it was an 8-page insert, of which two pages were adverts and two pages were completely blank, he wasn’t wrong. I guess when you only get about 40 people at your games you could probably just go round and tell them anything important individually.
Despite admission being a mere £6, I spent the first half wondering if the programme offered better value. It took nearly half an hour for the first shot, and that was poor. Both teams looked like they’d been selected for their ability to kick the ball quite hard, with the direction being a secondary consideration. Neither keeper was tested before the break, which was slightly surprising as the away keeper looked like he could have been tested by the height restrictions at Thorpe Park’s rides, such was his lack of height.
At least in the second half things improved a bit. The home side, 2nd place before kick off, started to show a bit of urgency and apply a bit of pressure. It wasn’t coming to a great deal though. The odd half chance here and there, but just as I was getting resigned to one of those as-bad-as-it-sounds 0-0 draws, the home side went in front. A free kick from the left found its way to an unmarked forward on the edge of the six yard box on the right. His low side-foot shot across the keeper into the bottom corner of the saggy net sent the six men and a dog behind in the Jungle End wild. Well, maybe not wild, but they were pleased at least.
Into the last 10 minutes, and the game was clinched by a rare bit of composure. Finding himself with the ball on the left edge of the area, an Egham forward cut back inside, took a couple of touches deeper into the box, before ignoring the shouts of a team-mate for him to square the ball, and smacking the ball past the Raynes Park keeper.
Raynes Park weren’t coming back from that. They had one useful, but not quite useful enough left-winger, but weren’t offering much of a threat, and the last chance fell to the home side. Sadly, a good chance to put a ball through a crowd of players was instead hit so far over the bar that it probably showed up on the Heathrow radar a few miles down he road, probably waking up an Air New Zealand pilot in surprise as a Mitre Size 5 bounced off the windscreen of his 747.
In the end the home side were probably just happy with the three points, and everyone was pleased to go indoors on a surprisingly cold afternoon.