Flackwell Heath 0 Thame United 2 (16/11/2013)
When I was younger, I’d often skim-read the back pages of the local paper, noting the exploits of Bracknell Town, seemingly in perpetual struggle in the bowels of the bottom tier of the Isthmian League. The clubs they played were a complete mystery to me. Often the towns were a completely mystery too. Collier Row, Banstead, Cove… they were like names of fictional towns in a novel, and my imagination had so little comprehension of football in such places that my mind might as well have just said “dragons live here” like in a 19th century map detailing “darkest Africa”.
One of the more obscure to me, in a sea of obscurity, was the name Flackwell Heath. Sounding slightly like the everyday alter-ego of an American comic-book superhero (by day, Mild mannered Flackwell Heath…) it was a place and a club I never remotely thought I’d see.
One of the drawbacks of going to a fair number of games is that you tend to run out of good and even reasonably local, new grounds to go to. This was the position I found myself in yesterday, with me not having the enthusiasm to go all the way to Forest Green Rovers, but fancying going somewhere as the sun was out. Flackwell Heath, partly thanks to the name, and partly thanks to being an easy 1/2 hour drive, won the day.
Arrival wasn’t hugely inspiring. While it had been sunny when I set off, large dark clouds jumped me like a mugger down a dark alleyway, leaving me arriving in a light drizzle. The packed car park was in contrast to the bar, which was nearly empty. Miley Cyrus, without clothes but with wrecking ball, played on the TV, while the in-bar glamour was provided by a photo of the chairman in the programme who (in that photo at least) looked a bit like a slimmer version of Bill Maynard in his Greengrass from Heartbeat days.
Thankfully, while the crowd was never going to huge, there was a fair smattering of people inside the ground. Most seemed to be congregated around a block down one side housing the changing rooms and tea bar. The tea bar was cheerfully manned by a Bert & Doris type man and wife team, with her doing the cooking, and him taking the orders on a little notepad, and handling raffle-style tickets with the order number on to the customers. In truth they may not have been married, and they almost certainly weren’t called Bert and Doris, but with a bygone feel to the operation, it was like being back in the 50s. OK, I have no idea what the 50s were really like, but in my mind they were like Flackwell Heath’s tea bar. With it emanating warmth of all kinds onto the covered terrace in front, it must have be one of the most cosiest spots in non-league football on yesterday’s cold afternoon.
Opposite was the main stand. Four or five shallow rows of red seats, looking like the bucket seats once found at the front rows at Wembley, make this a stand for those who need to sit down, rather than those seeking a good view. The slightly Wild west style font used to spell Flackwell Heath FC along the fascia hints at this being a very old stand. Its breeze-block construction suggests otherwise.
Both ends are partially covered to about the width of the six yard box, with a couple of steps of terracing providing a token raised view. The northern end slopes downhill in one corner, and this end, on a less murky afternoon, would have presented a picturesque backdrop with the trees and hills behind.
At the southern end, a battle of wills appeared to be taking place, between one person who thought the goal nets should be hooked over the perimeter fence, and somebody else who doesn’t. I arrived to see them hooked up, only to see them unhooked before halftime, with them hooked up again in the 2nd half. Whether it’s someone being mischievous, or two club officials with OCD and differing views on how nets should look, who knows. Or cares, being honest.
It was in this net (hooked up at the time) that both goals were scored, in a five-minute spell early in the first half. Flackwell Heath were above Thame in the table, but Thame started looking much stronger. Flackwell Heath held out for 15 minutes until their keeper spilled a catch, presenting Thame with a gleefully accepted tap-in from 6 yards.
Perhaps unsettled by this, poor defending allowed a Thame forward to break into the box unchallenged five minutes later, and he passed the ball into the net for 2-0.
Talk from the Thame players was about “finishing the game before half-time” and such was their dominance they ought to have done so. Flackwell Heath were struggling to get near the Thame goal, and it took until just before the break for the first real opening. Sadly this shot was spooned high over the bar. Just a minute or so later, a dipping volley just failed to dip enough, but at least it gave the home side some encouragement.
The 2nd half was much more even. Perhaps Thame were sitting on the lead, but at least Flackwell Heath were getting nearer the goal. Sadly most were half rather than real chances. One did appear to hit the post – hard to tell from the other end – but it was mainly about blocked shots and headers over the bar.
So Flackwell Heath might not have gained any points from this game, but at least I got answers to my youthful curiosity about the place. I can’t imagine the home side thinking that a worthwhile trade-off though.