Hythe Town 3 Chatham Town 1 (2nd April 2016)
The plan had been to go to Ton Pentre in Wales. A game in the regional 2nd tier of the Welsh Leagues isn’t an obvious choice, but the ground, deep in the Rhondda Valley, looked a picturesque setting. Alas, a check of the club’s twitter feed five minutes before I was due to leave showed the game was called off, so some hasty rearrangements were in order.
One of the alternatives had been Lye Town in the West Midlands. Another was Newcastle Town, up in Stoke. I’d got slightly tired of the M6/M40 though, so I opted for Hythe, way down in the far corner of Kent.
It had looked a good choice. The sun was out, and I was able to enjoy the novelty of the sun’s warmth for the first time this year. Hythe is certainly no metropolis, but clearly had enough of a sleepy 50s feel to attract a few tourists, presumably those who find the bright lights of Dover and Folkestone too demanding. In the centre was also the eastern terminus of the Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway, which trundles the clearly lucrative route from Hythe to Dungeness up to nine times a day, to the delight of train enthusiasts.
No train rides for us. Our town centre quest was merely to find lunch, which we did in the Red Lion pub. I sat and pondered, in this most English of towns, that I was probably nearer to Belgium than I was to home. It felt almost impossible, but I checked when I got home and it was true, being almost exactly equidistant between home and Ypres.
Thankfully, much nearer than both, was Hythe’s ground. It’s a slightly odd place. It’s covered on three sides by low-roofed terracing. Behind the goal, it’s a mass of pillars, making finding a spot without too many obstructions a challenge. One side had the club bar on an upstairs floor, where balconies at the pitch side of the bar serve as hospitality areas, on the assumption that nobody in such an area wanted to sit down. Somehow though, the bright sunshine had vanished, and it wasn’t really balcony weather any more.
Maybe the disappointing afternoon weather had got through to the players, as there wasn’t a great deal of anything positive in the first half. A bit of effort, yes, but both teams seemed to be kicking the ball like they were trying to punish it, and the game was crying out for a little subtlety. There were plenty of shots in the first half. It’s just a shame that virtually all of them had come from the army firing range next door, providing quite a noisy soundtrack to the half.
We were into the 2nd half, with thought of this being a 0-0 starting to take shape, when that little bit of craft necessary changed the game. Surprisingly, considering that play-off chasing Hythe had the bulk of the play, it came from Chatham. One little through ball set up a comfortably taken one on one, and Chatham were ahead.
It changed the game. Certainly better for the neutral, but oddly, not really better for Chatham. Within a few minutes it was 1-1. A free kick on the edge of the box was set up for a direct shot, and although the keeper got both hands to it, he couldn’t keep it out.
From there it was a case of Chatham holding on, but Hythe looked like a team who would nick that winner. The crossbar was hit, shots were saved, crosses turned away, good chances wasted, and crosses flapped away, only for a header to be powered in from 6 yards from a corner, in the 88th minute. Even the obligatory non-league dog was probably wagging his tail faster now.
Hopes of a comeback were very short-lived, as Hythe took advantage of an absent defence to seal the game in stoppage time, when even a vain lunge by a defender on the line couldn’t stop the ball going in. 3-1, and 3 points to delighted Hythe team, and four goals for the neutrals, when none at all was starting to look the likely outcome. Had it gone that way then finding out that our Lye Town alternative ended 7-3 might have been a tad annoying, but in the end, a decent enough afternoon.