Haverhill Borough 1 Saffron Walden Town 1 (26th December 2014)
Being honest, when the alarm went at 7 am on Boxing Day morning, and the weather outside was of the “need to scrape the ice off the car” variety, I did wonder why I’d been so keen on a Suffolk/Essex double-header, especially when the first game of the two was at a ground of the kind I wouldn’t bother visiting if it was 10 miles away, let alone 100.
I can’t really blame Haverhill Borough for not having an old character-filled ground. The club only formed three years ago when the New Croft sports complex where they play was built. The complex’s owners, despite having already inviting Haverhill Rovers to move in, decided this town of just 27000 people needed a 2nd football club.
What Haverhill could have done with, from a purely selfish point of view, was a few more shops/pubs/cafes open in the town centre this Boxing Day morning. One pub had two dogs, one yapping through the window, but no obvious sign of customers. “Elevenses” therefore consisted of a packet of Haribo from a pound shop. Nice, but not quite what I was hoping for.
A new ground built for clubs with modest ambitions is never likely to be a work to feature in ground site stadium porn threads, and adjectives such as smart and tidy are the best the New Croft can expect.
The blissfully warm club bar was having a happy hour on beers from 11 am until noon – or during the first half in other words – but the beer was reasonably priced anyway, even if live football from Australia probably wasn’t what was drawing people in.
Next to the bar was a regulation modern low-cost seated stand for 200, and behind one goal was a token league-regulation-meeting covered terracing unit. Beyond that, the most interesting features of the ground, an accolade almost akin to being among the taller of the Seven Dwarfs, was that the border fencing angled out in places to create triangles of unused extra grass.
The contest itself did promise to be interesting appetiser for the main game later on. Borough had won 7 out of 8 at home, while Saffron Walden, the league leaders, had won all 9 away games so far.
The first half was virtually all played in the Haverhill half, and it would have been easy to assume they were the home team, especially coupled with the fact that most of the crowd seemed to be sporting the red and black of Saffron Walden. A chance late in the half was bundled in to give the league leaders the lead they deserved.
The second half was more even. It was a bitterly cold middle-of-the-day, but both sides raised the temperature a bit with some very heated tackles. Even if the odd bit of sly diving has crept into the game even at this level, with the low crowds you can easy tell the tackles that really hurt, as the anguished expletives that fill the air leave little doubt. The ref seemed to be showing a fair degree of seasonal goodwill, or this game would have finished with far fewer than 22 on the pitch.
After taking it in turns to have spells of pressure, Haverhill ended Saffron Walden’s perfect away record right at the death. A speculative ball to the far post wasn’t collected by any of the players determined to get there, and somehow, in the melee of bodies, the ball was squeezed just inside the post for a very late equaliser. The Saffron Walden players, having braved a wind chill of -5C in shorts and t-shirts for 90 minutes, not to mention losing their 100% away record, looked pretty crestfallen. For me, the only concern was making my way the short distance to Sudbury, and finding a pub for a spot of proper lunch.