Andy Charles – @CapitalGull
Guiseley 3 Leamington 0 – March 7th 2020
Bovey Tracey AFC 0 Teignmouth 3 – August 25th 2020
Games seen (in person) in-between – zero.
That was the effect Coronavirus had; plans of 20 games in April, a rearranged trip to Scotland, a few play-off games in May and a full pre-season in July all up in smoke and not even a sign of any National League fixtures for the “new” season.
At least we know that season will begin on October 3rd but, as yet, not a clue whether I’ll be able to get my hands on a suddenly much-prized season ticket or be allowed in to Plainmoor without.
Doubts over any crowds being allowed in at National League System grounds were finally allayed last week after a growing clamour to #LetFansIn and soon it was back to the planning stage, albeit much different for me at the moment as I mix in a “new” home in Plainmoor with working around 180 miles away from my regular office desk.
Buoyed by a call from fellow Gull Romford Kev, on a quick visit to his family in the Bay, the first fixture of the brave new world turned out to be at Mill Marsh Park, home of South West Peninsula League side Bovey Tracey AFC.
Five months on from my last game the world is a very different place and so is going to a football match – where before a woollen scarf might have been the first accessory on my list, now it’s a face covering.
Although not needed on entry to the pretty ground, near the town centre, it was soon obvious how much things have changed. Hand sanitiser station right by the turnstile, no money changed hands, although that was almost solely down to the pre-season nature of the game – donations were put straight into a bucket and not touched by more than one set of hands until some time later. This is not a time to be asking for change.
Name and phone number go down in their little black (it could have been any colour) book and, if you wanted a drink in their bar, it was “mask on as you enter please Sir”.
No programmes (although being me I did manage to blag a few from the very kind turnstile man, who was probably a high-ranking club official as well). Badges available for Kev, but again little exchange in the way of money going through multiple sets of hands.
But when on the touchline it was obvious how much things are going to have to change when bigger clubs are allowed to have fans in.
We stood in a small stand on the far side of the ground and, by the time eight people were stood in it, you were soon inching within two metres of people from other households. In the seated area, perhaps 40 seats maximum, there were very few unoccupied – you have to hope there were some big families in there.
Plenty of room around the pitch – even though a third of it was fenced off – but with the misty rain arriving soon after kick-off cover was at a premium in the “official” crowd of 42.
Don’t get me wrong, it was never uncomfortable standing up with eight other people, but you did have to wonder what kind of conversations were going on in the seated area and among those who chose to congregate near the clubhouse door, and hard not to muse what Plainmoor might be like with 2,000 fans trying to spread out – and probably failing.
As for the football, well we had no idea who the hell 21 of the 22 players on show were – the other was a former Torquay United player in the form of Sean Finch, one of those non-league gems we tried (and failed) to convert into something special in 2015.
He showed off a couple of nice touches but had to be one of the most awkward runners I have ever seen – a weird shuffling way of moving over the grass at not particularly high speed. After 45 frustrating minutes he was withdrawn and not seen again despite rolling substitutes being in use.
By then Teigns were 1-0 up and pretty much in control despite being a couple of divisions below Bovey – as it happens their opening Devon Football League game next month is against Bovey’s reserve team.
The one-way traffic continued after the break with a series of chances, two more Teignmouth goals and enough time for them to miss a penalty as well.
And then came the realisation one of those fans stood near us was another gull – Chris “CP Gull” Pascoe – whose son, it transpired, had been one of Teignmouth’s second-half subs at the tender age of 16. Some bright moments down the left and supportive words for his proud dad from one of their coaches before we exited to head back to Torquay.
Yes, some very small concerns, and yes it is a slightly different experience. But when the whistle blows, the ball is hoofed up in the air, the tackles fly in, the goalies swear at their defenders and the coaches shout out their tactics, it was that thing I had missed so much – a simple game of football played on green grass in the drizzle! One per cent nearer normality…
Dom Roman – @DomRoman
Heavitree United 2nd Team 0 Newtown 2nd Team 8 – 22nd August 2020
The ‘Let Fans Back In’ initiative was brilliant wasn’t it? Helping to overturn a flawed system that allowed people access to cafes, pubs and restaurants but not the outside pleasures of amateur football, it was terrific that football supporters could return last weekend. With no English professional games available to fans, this was a chance for us all to visit their local clubs…however amateur and modest the surroundings!
I took that chance last Saturday. We’d already been to a pretty but thoroughly grockled (is that a word?) Dawlish Warren, braved some wet weather and entertained the kids for a morning, so by the afternoon it was time to diversify back to sport. In the distance I could hear a sharp blow of a whistle and some monotone shouting. Football! I’d never been to see our local team before, so why not? Let’s have a toddle up and take a look.
Our most local team is Heavitree United…or the ‘Heavies’ as they are affectionately called. One glance at the home goalkeeper confirmed this nickname was not misplaced. Anyway the setting at Wingfield Park is fairly basic, a small stand on one side for supporters during adverse weather, two brick dug-outs (one missing a roof to it, it was windy but I assumed it hadn’t blown off), whilst the supporters who were there (around 20 in the first half at least) mainly stood or sat towards one corner – closest to the social club beer garden. No danger of pushing over the 150 max limit here…a glance at the garden suggested more interest in a cheap pint than the football on offer.
I consulted a nearby chap about the score having missed the first half hour or so (included the drinks break) and the home team were already 4 or 5 down. Oh dear. The opponents Newtown’s energy clearly hadn’t been sapped by the 2 mile trek across town.
Half time came around and nothing improved after the sit down. Newtown had greater fitness, a bit more appetite for the game and most importantly a young nippy striker who was fast and knew where the goal was. The Heavies mood worsened and from the sideline their angry manager pointed out some home truths to his centre half. The altercation was brief, as the lad sporting a bob in his hair, stormed off the field leaving his gaffer looking suitably unimpressed. It was only a friendly after all!
Newtown tucked in a few more goals including one delicious dinked finish (the one moment to elicit elusive applause), and it was time to retire back home. However for just over an hour or so it was good to be back. I’ll watch any football in the flesh, there’s always some pleasure to be had; even if the pitch is bobbly, the skills on show are limited and the ball is shanked out of play more times than you can count (I could be talking about games at Plainmoor over the years to be fair).
‘Find enjoyment where you can’ has been a great mantra during the last 6 months, at the moment local clubs and proper football serve up some of that and more. Seek out opportunities this weekend if you can. Dom