Leatherhead 0 Faversham Town 1 (27 April 2013)
I don’t seem to have been spoiled for goals to often on my travels of late, and this was another game that had me walking away just thanking my lucky stars it wasn’t a 0-0. It wasn’t boring, but it’ll certainly be filed away as an afternoon that was interesting rather than exciting.
I had considered going to Dulwich Hamlet to see if they could clinch the Rymans South title, but not fancying a drive into the heart of South London, I opted for Leatherhead instead, a short, if not always speedy, trip round the M25.
The sun was out, and I was handily able to park a whole ten yards from the turnstiles, and the omens were good. And then I ordered a pint of Guinness that took about five minutes to pour, and wasn’t worth the wait, so that was probably my good fortune for the day over.
It wasn’t just being closer that made me opt for Leatherhead. I’d be penciling it in as an option before as it looked a reasonable ground. OK, there wasn’t much to two of the sides, but the other two were quirky enough.
Down one touchline, along with the changing rooms and bar, were a collection of wonky low stands, each one seemingly facing the pitch at a slightly different angle as if they’d been blown about in a stiff breeze. The central two stands were seated, with about half a dozen rows of black seats and pillars every few yards. One of these was in front of small beer patio leading out from the club bar, with a decorative iron gate leading through an archway from the patio to the seats. Squashed at the other end of the patio, like a tramp huddled in a shop doorway, was the Leatherhead club shop.
At either side of these seated areas were covered terraces. Both were small, but steep enough to make them popular vantage points. In theory any way. One was separated from the seats by the players’ tunnel, and the awkwardness of access to it meant it was unused for virtually the whole game. Next to this terrace, in the corner, was a green brick tower of no discernible function, past or present. It did sport the Leatherhead club badge, but no other features.
Behind one goal, following the line of the grass banking that slopes all round the ground, was a decent-sized covered terrace, with a roof that looked far too heavy for the terrace it covered. Perhaps twenty yards wide and about ten steps deep, it was unfortunately too shallow, meaning a strained view through the goal nets for the few who opted for what was surely intended to be a very popular part of the ground. Instead fans either watched from the flanks of the terrace, peering round the goal, or just stood on the grass banking and watched from there. Polite notices asked people to keep off the grass as it could be slippery, but with it offering a good view, nobody seemed to care.
The opposite side from the seats consisted of just such a grass slope, set back from a very wide touchline. The other very narrow end did have a small bit of terracing behind the goal, one end of which was cordoned off by a safety barrier. As this barrier didn’t seem to be protecting anyone from anything, this was another safety directive the good people of Leatherhead ignored, moving it aside without a care.
One other reason I opted for this Leatherhead game was that both teams really needed to win on the final day. Leatherhead needed to win to guarantee a play-off spot, while Faversham needed to win and hope Hythe slipped up, to give them home advantage in the play-off semis.
I can only hope the tension of the day got to the teams, as neither looked remotely like a team challenging to go up. Leatherhead were perhaps the most frustrating. They certainly had more of the play, as well as a staggering tally of corners and free kicks around the box. I don’t think a single one actually found a player in a green shirt though, unless it was overhit, in which case it would be that guy who find the first defender when he put a cross in instead.
Not that Faversham were glorious either. They seemed to be playing “direct” to put it mildly, but were having little joy either. If fact it was nearly half-time before the first serious shot came in. Faversham hit that, but the home side really ought to have struck very soon after.
The ball broke on the left of the box, leaving a Leatherhead player with a clear shot at goal. The angle was too much for him though, and he pulled it badly, with the shot going well wide.
Needless to say, both managers seemed to spend the whole game blaming the referee for all of their teams’ failings. “The occasion’s too much for yer, ref!” was one shout, as if reffing in front of 260 at Fetcham Grove is like handling a champions league semi final.
The second half continued much the same, but with Faversham doing even less attacking. Leatherhead weren’t knocking on the door, and in fact it’d have been hard to say they’d even found the right street yet, but they did look the most likely to score, somehow, to keep their season alive.
With about 10 minutes left though, a big black cloud loomed over the ground, sending most scurrying for cover. Within another minute or two, as the most April-ish of April showers poured down, a big black cloud loomed over Leatherhead’s season too. A rare Faversham break down the left saw the ball whipped in hard and low towards the near post. Cross or shot? It was hard to tell from my viewpoint, but it just seemed to bounce out of the keeper’s hands and onto the post and in, to give Faversham an unlikely lead.
To Leatherhead’s credit their heads didn’t drop. In fact they had three decent chances to at least equalise. Two one-on-ones into the right side of the box saw poor control allowing the Faversham keeper to rush out and smother the danger. And when he was eventually beaten, from a powerful shot from the edge of the area, the ball also just cleared the crossbar.
And that was pretty much that. The home side trudged off in the rain, and with the news coming through that Folkestone had won and pipped them for the last play-off spot, it wasn’t the happiest ending to a game. The generous applause for the players didn’t perhaps match some of the under their breath comments from those same fans, although I have to say I wouldn’t have exactly fancied their chances in front of 2500 at Maidstone in the semi anyway.