Chertsey Town 0 Dunstable Town 5 (5th April 2014)
2014 hasn’t been particularly kind to Chertsey, town or club. With much of the town inundated by the River Thames bursting its banks in the early part of the year, the fortunes of the town’s football club probably haven’t been of highest concern to the locals.
Maybe that’s just as well, “The Curfews”, as the club are unusually nicknamed, have been fighting a losing battle to keep their own heads above water all season, particularly at home. Their Alwyns Lane ground is hardly a fortress. It is a full six months since their last, and indeed only, home league win this season, and they find themselves in April having only avoided defeat here three times.
It was perhaps not the best time then for them to be facing Dunstable, the league leaders, although their had been signs of encouragement midweek. An away win was secured at Marlow, on the back of a run of scoring just once in 9 matches. And it has to be said although it was 21st (of 22) v 1st, for nearly all of the 1st half a neutral would have found it difficult to work out who were the promotion chasers and who were the strugglers.
Unfortunately, for the neutral, this wasn’t because it was a great game. It was 0-0 up until the 45th minute, and while there are 0-0s that are full of action and excitement, this wasn’t one of them. It was competitive, yes, but the goalkeepers were troubled by shots less often than the Beckhams are by trying to understand the paradoxes of Dostoevsky novels. It was a version of “the beautiful game” that had a face only a mother could love, of the kind that made you doubt not only your decision to visit that afternoon, but the wisdom of choosing football as your favourite sport in general.
Perhaps the ref was getting bored too. With the first half nearly up, the only threat seen in the ground so far appeared to be a section of roofing on the clubhouse which looked to be held in place by a selection of carefully placed bricks. When a Dunstable attacker fell innocuously in the box, he had no hesitation in giving a penalty, and sending off the home defender for being the last man. The penalty was duly dispatched to give the league leaders the lead at the break, and further heated exchanges followed. Dunstable fans behind the goal unsurprisingly thought there was no doubt about the call, but rumours at half time were of the police being called because of the protests.
My only protest was that the tea bar at half time was showing the grand national build up rather than the football scores. OK, I may have entered the club’s grand national sweepstake when buying a pre-match beer, but I decided to forego the pre-race interviews to try to find decent seat in the main stand.
The main stand was old but definitely functional rather than a thing of charm, not helped by the fact that it had clearly seen better days. The first two rows of seats were modern-ish tip-up seats, but they seemed to get more ramshackle the further up the stand you progressed. This culminated in half of the back two rows being fenced off as a safety measure, looking like they’d had some sort of collapse. It wasn’t difficult to see why the better seats were nearer the front. With five pillars required to hold up the roof, finding a seat further up that didn’t have pillars blocking the view of at least one goal wasn’t simple.
Opposite the main stand, down the gentle slope of the pitch, was a very low covered stand. The single raised step of terracing at its rear would have presented a risk of head injury on the low roof beams to anyone over 5’10” – perhaps more so towards the Alwyns Lane end, where the roof sagged down over a section of ten yards of so.
The Alwyns Lane terrace itself was covered almost full width, but not very deep, and with supports every few yards. The middle section was backless too, leading to a the tea bar, unusually set a good 15 yards back from the terrace. To the side of the tea bar was an unused turnstile block with a very modern turnstile of the type you might expect to see at a metro station or theme park. Quite what it was doing here is a mystery.
The opposite end had a small goal-width covered terrace, with quite a chunky step of terracing, albeit not high enough for people to use it rather than the net-free view either side.
With a couple of steps of terracing either side of the main stand, Alwyns Lane is perhaps the archetypal non-league ground at this level, which made me wonder if I was viewing the place a bit harshly in light of my trip to Cesena and Bologna a couple of weeks earlier. At least I didn’t need to use spare bits of paper to wipe the water off my uncovered seat here.
I only stayed in my seat for about a quarter of an hour. Sharing a pang of Chertsey’s sense of injustice at the penalty and red card, I wanted them to get back into the game, and maybe clinch a famous (OK, not that famous) dramatic 2-1 win.
To be honest, it became clear that wasn’t very likely, and it was all but snuffed of just before the hour. Dunstable had been awarded a corner, but after along while of trying to attract the ref’s attention, the linesman said it was a Chertsey throw, after going out of play earlier in the move. Chertsey’s joy at this minor victory was short-lived however. Possession was lost from the throw and the ball was crossed to the far post, where a stooping downward header was enough to effectively end the game as a contest.
With the pressure now off, Dunstable grew in confidence, getting more dangerous with every attack. Allowed too much space on the ball, a third was thumped in across a motionless keeper with 20 minutes left.
It was now all about how many, and the 4th was presented on a plate with 8 minutes left. A tired and badly mis-timed tackle in the box, coupled with quite an acrobatic dive, presented another penalty chance. No arguments this time though, and no change in the outcome, with the keeper diving the same way as for the first, and the ball also going into the opposite corner again.
If the 4th was almost a gift, the 5th was presented wrapped in shiny paper with a bow on top. Again, too much space was found in the area, and a shot across the keeper was blocked by a defender. Sadly, trapping a fast-moving ball while facing your own goal isn’t the easiest skill in the world, and while he took 90% of the pace off the ball, the remaining 10% was just enough to see it trickle over the line for an o.g. It would quite possibly have gone wide if he’d left it too.
There were half chances for a 6th too, with the best being a far post header that was just too much of a stretch to control.
While all this was going on, a few fans were discussing the grand national, then nearing the closing stages. I couldn’t remember the name of the horse I’d pulled out the had. It was a bit of an odd name, beginning with a P, and in any case, it wasn’t one they were mentioning. Well, not then anyway. Not until someone said “Pineau De Re won it” did I realise my horse was even in contention. £20 richer, and 5 goals better off from my 44th minute gloom (and with news of Reading winning at Charlton) my afternoon was certainly improving. For Chertsey, on the other hand, they were probably just glad it was over.