Going back to 1986, I think, for the song lyric. That season was one where I went to one game all season, and that was by happenstance. Tottenham Hotspur v Liverpool, and only because my then neighbour was going and offered me the chance. I liked Tottenham then, but with Glenn Hoddle about to go, I didn’t see much past that time, and life was going to change very quickly. A bit like now, actually.
So I thought I’d jot down some thoughts on what is upcoming before it actually happens, and how I see my non-league football watching working out.
Work is work, and will always be there, but it is ever so slightly quieter in the school holiday period, and some of my larger or important pieces of work are probably with people held up getting across or under the channel, braving our airports, or overseas enjoying some beach life. Me? Not for me. I prefer travel with a purpose, have a move to plan, and most importantly, of course, my football life to map out in the upcoming months. The first month, with that new season excitement, the thoughts of ambition and optimism (the latter not for me) and how to map out August in particular, is something I’ve not done, properly, since my home and away days back in the early 2000s. This is great. It really is!
I have been thinking how to play this season, and I have several aims and principles to put down.
- I am NOT a groundhopper. I don’t really want to go to football grounds to collect them. If there is nothing else on, or a better option, then I will go there. I’ve been to over 100 grounds for football. From San Siro and Camp Nou, Ferencvaros and the Olympic Stadium in Berlin, to Donnacroft in Torridgeside, or University of Greenwich at Avery Hill. Legends like Roker Park, Ayresome Park, Maine Road and The Den, newer cookie-cutters like Stadium of Light, St. Mary’s and Sixfields. So new grounds are nice, but I don’t have the money or time to do that.
- While here in London, it is Phoenix Sports as the priority. So I don’t intend to miss a game until I move. I think, at best/worst that is going to be six weeks, so up until mid-September. The most vulnerable is probably going to see Welling Town at Chatham on a Saturday afternoon, or Canterbury City at Sittingbourne during the bank holiday weekend. They might be the ones I miss. The big one, for me, is the 17th August clash with Glebe. Also, can’t wait for the FA Cup match on Saturday week as well. What happens after I move? Well, if it is before end of September, I already have a midweek game in October pencilled in. I hope to come up a few times before the end of the season. So Erith Town, Erith & Belvedere (at Welling United), Oxhey Jets and Lordswood are on the horizon.
- I will be moving to NW Hampshire, and this means priority number 2 (or maybe 1.1) is Holsworthy AFC down in deepest Devon. I am down there for a week in October, where the fixture computer has done me no favours with two away games from my Langtree base. One is on the outskirts of Plymouth, the other on the M5 just east of Tiverton. However, with the move to NW Hampshire, the games at Honiton, Axminster and Bridport become very manageable. All three are in the winter months, so vulnerable to the weather, but let’s wait and see. Christmas is still TBD, so may get to see Holsworthy v Okehampton if down there. But given this is a season where Step 5 is really up on offer with the top 4 promoted, I’ll be following the Magpies really closely, with all the fun that entails in trying to find out the scores. Ryan Hall has a team to run without me nagging him!
- Who do I follow in NW Hampshire? The three closest teams are Andover Town, Andover New Street and Salisbury FC. I followed the two Andover teams on Twitter this morning, and Street are in front for following me back almost immediately – I am that cheap. Salisbury, it appears managed by Steve Claridge, are a bit high up the pyramid for me (Step 3?) but I have a game in mind for them already. Already made a mental note of the Christmas clash between the two Andover teams. Depending on when we move (all being well) I’ll be down there really quickly to judge the lie of the land. As I have found out, teams pick you rather than the other way around.
- There are then the “soft spot” teams to keep an eye on. In London that is Cray Valley Paper Mills, for reasons captured in my pieces about them last year. Indeed, I hope to get down there tonight for their pre-season game against Maidstone (perhaps photos to follow). I was sad to see Matt Warren had left for Sittingbourne – I really liked him as a holding, passing midfielder last season. Also in London, there is Cray Wanderers, who while never really capturing my heart in the way Phoenix and to a lesser extent Paper Mills did, are still going to be kept an eye out for.
- In Devon, that team is Bideford, where this all started and I will always be grateful. It may be in October that I miss one of the Holsworthy trips to see them instead. I note that the midweek games don’t clash at present, so might get a home game on 11 October. The away games at Sholing, Frome and Lymington might be of more interest, though. Highworth, who were probably the closest to where we are going, have moved into another division (sideways) so that was a shame. The other team I really liked last year were Plymouth Parkway, and their fans in particular. I have their game at Salisbury in my sights which is in early February, and Swindon Supermarine as well. A lot is going to depend on how the money situation is, though. I am certainly not immune to the cost of living issues.
- I will also go to see the team nearest to where I am at the moment before I move. That team is FC Elmstead in the SCEFL Division 1. There look to be a couple of opportunities, one of which is the opening match in the FA Vase because Phoenix are not playing that day (their fixture is put back until Sunday, I believe as Canterbury share with Sittingbourne who are at home on the Saturday). The ground is within walking distance, so no real excuses.
- And finally, Millwall themselves. I am as detached as I have ever been from them, have no desire to pay £30 or whatever to watch them, yet remain a supporter in the sense that there is no other league club I give a remote toss about. They were a part of my life, in many ways still are, but not to go any more. I hope they do really well, surprise people, turn some heads, but as always, I start off with the desire that they avoid relegation and everything else is a bonus.
- Finally, finally, there is the abomination of the Qatar World Cup to contend with. When this competition is the only game in town, then it is an easy choice. However, non-league will continue throughout and this provides some stiff competition. I think England’s group games are Monday, Friday and Tuesday, so not the main midweek or weekend to avoid. I hope the clubs do some stuff around them, and that will be interesting to see. It’s just rubbish though, in my view. I think it is going to be a dreadful competition. I love the World Cup, by the way.
- There will be a team that surprises me, that makes me like them, due to a fan, a player, a game, an occasion, a feeling. That’s what Phoenix did. That’s how Holsworthy did it. I liked Okehampton’s officials, wasn’t so taken on something that happened after (including having a pop at me on Twitter, laughable muppets) and their twitter feed riles me. I’m sure they care, so there is a need for some care. It is personal in the extreme – I will have some soft spots for Lancing as their officials took a calamitous (at the time) defeat with such good grace that it was genuinely touching. I liked the Ivybridge officials too, whereas wasn’t taken with Sevenoaks, although their car park guys were great, and as for Corinthian! Well. It’s not a bleedin’ garden party!
- I want memories. I want good pictures, and lots of bad ones, and I want angles and stories like last season. That is what the game is all about.
I am not going to make any promises on the blogging front. I have found that is a fool’s errand. I was really chuffed to see the terrific reaction to the piece at the weekend – again, nearly 300 combined hits is great for a blog off the beaten path. I hope to attract and entice fellow travellers along the way, to bring out the essence of non-league, the individual impact it has, the enhancements it makes to my life, and to others, and the work that goes on behind the scenes to make the game work. These people are amazing, dedicated, fanatical, but often rational, clear-headed and focused. The two chairman I have met fit into those categories, the officials surrounding them so passionate about the clubs that you can’t help but be drawn in. If you love non-league, it really does love you back.
So, with Erith Town on Friday night, and the opening game of the 2022/23 SCEFL (and it might be in any of the Step 5 or 6 leagues, I don’t know) season now just 72 hours away, the new season is within touching distance. I Can’t Wait (as Nu Shooz might have sung).