I think this happens all the time to me – initial bursts of energy, and then lethargy as writing a blog takes time. That enthusiasm to write, which you need to have, gets harder when you don’t really know how to express your feelings on a game of football. I went to Cray Valley Paper Mills yesterday, yet had no intention of writing it up even though I took notes, and plenty of pictures. I might do a summary piece on the sister blog (The Magpies and The Phoenix) in time. As the game ended, with a cracking goal I might add, I didn’t feel the desire to write about it. Warning signs. Also, absolute evidence of the ups and downs of my personality. There are reasons.
The enjoyment of the season inevitably wanes as the proximity to the start of the season becomes more distant. Maybe I am part of the furniture rather than some novelty act, at least that is how it feels. Or maybe, I just have the hump because I am the unlucky so and so that has real lip trouble when the sun comes out and have a particularly nasty one at the moment which makes me down (there is massive psychological scar from my teenage years, which induces paranoia when I get one). It doesn’t take a lot to induce the miseries. As a blog writer the enthusiasm is generated by hits and interest, which wanes too as the novelty wears off and the inspiration for writing becomes harder. When the podcast struggled this week, then I felt even lower. I’m trying my best, people! Don’t you love me any more?
So, first paragraph, a load of self-pity, a bit of my own ego bruised, a whinge and a moan, and having a pop at life in general. You thought I’d been too upbeat this season? Ha!
The fact is that, as we all know, and as I am only too aware, the football season is a monumental grind, and we aren’t even out of August yet and Phoenix are falling behind on league games played while they are in all the early rounds of the cup competitions. After last week’s unconvincing win against SCEFL Premier bottom club Tunbridge Wells, the FA Vase preliminary round, or whatever this one is, saw Phoenix drawn away at Canterbury City. They play at Sittingbourne’s ground, somewhere in the vicinity of the town of that name, but in actuality, and technically speaking in the arse end of nowhere. I had been warned by Richard at Paper Mills of this fact, but still, they were some of the choicest country lanes my satnav took me down to get there.
I also don’t really like Sunday football. It is not a day that is meant for the game at any meaningful level as it was always the recreational game’s day – and yes that speaks to my age in this televised football era. It always felt to me that football should be a neat package. Saturday for football, Sunday for rest the day before work or school. Now we have nonsense like Friday nights and even Thursday this week for a Premier League game. What is going on? Anyway, today was not going to be a conventional day whatever the weather, as Canterbury share with Sittingbourne, who as hosts of course have preferential rights, and they chose to play their home Isthmian game on Saturday. This meant either Friday night or Sunday and we got the latter. It’s been known for a while, but the SCEFL Premier had some fixtures on Saturday (for teams with byes in the Vase) and most play tomorrow as well. Phoenix fall two games behind some of those teams, and have an FA Cup tie on Saturday as well.
I never really knew who played in the Vase and who played in the Trophy, but it appears as though the dividing line is the Step 4 to Step 5. So this year instead of being in the Trophy, as they were last year, Phoenix are in the FA Vase. Steve is said to be keen on a run in this competition, and if truth be told, on paper, we had to fancy our chances. Canterbury have not had a great start to the season, I saw them at Sutton Athletic when they were really poor, and they have since had a 10-0 reverse in a FA Cup REPLAY! They have had a win in the SCEFL, against Holmesdale. Phoenix are unbeaten in all competitions, and, it is fair to say, unconvincing in most of them as well. A good performance was needed to get the show on the road, the wheels on the track, the pointer in the right direction – oh, OK, it is a cup competition, a win is really all that matters today.
The first disappointment of the day was Paul could not make it. As you have read, it has been great for me to go to football with my brother again, and he is, despite his pleas otherwise, getting into it. He was not too pleased to have to miss the game, but I am sure he will be back on Saturday. Just to let you know, Paul, a lot of the guys asked after you, so you were missed.
After navigating the country lanes, and going through a village that clearly despises cars (Tunstall) with speed humps, chicanes and all sorts designed to make you cheesed off, I missed the turning to the ground, had to find somewhere to U-Turn and then found myself in a science park, which is actually where the ground is. The car park was quite full, but nothing to do really with the football. Something called “Kevstock”, it appeared, was going on, complete with music and so on. More of that later. As you may guess, the title of this piece came from one of the songs we heard!
As I walked up to the turnstile, there was Alf, the former secretary. Always good to see a familiar face. Canterbury charge £8 to get in, plus £2 for a programme. I’m still a sucker for these, so of course I had a purchase. For the second day on the spin, and another reason I am down in the dumps, I was asked if I was a senior citizen. This is really beginning to peeve me. When I mentioned it to Vince and chums, they said, “what are you moaning for, it is £2 off”. The price of my effing dignity, Mr Clark et al, that’s what it is! That is why it cheeses me off. One theory is it is my cap that does it. Not buying it. I now have a complex. Derek did it to me at Cray Valley Paper Mills yesterday as well.
Dave and the boys were there, I gave them a banana update, they probably think I am going senile. No Billy today, no Chairman Andy fresh from his tour de force on BBC Radio London this week. Housey says hello, Mark is there, bemoaning West Ham not having a shot on target, and Alan is there although probably a bit disappointed that Bexley CC lost in the semi-final of the national T20 competition (although they are going to Lord’s in the National Club Cup Final). Tony is setting up the Veo, and securing a team sheet for the Phoenix not quite as massive. The Mayplace Messi Mob are there, and Richard from Paper Mills enters the fray, with a carton of chips, ruined by ketchup. These things grate. The Phoenix team has one change from last week’s starting line-up. Steve Philips retires to his abode, awaiting another call up no doubt, and Andy Walker is back between the sticks. I don’t see much change from the match v Sutton Athletic in the Canterbury team, but then, I can’t say I am hugely interested. There’s just a feel of total lethargy. The ground is nice enough, the weather is lovely, the surface looks firm as they all are at the moment, and it is a cup tie. But the vibe, just not there.
Steve comes over before kick-off to say hello to everyone. He’d been to see the Rusthall v Glebe game the previous day, where the home side kept their unbeaten run going with a last minute equaliser. Steve had his views, given we are playing the surprise package from the outskirts of Tunbridge Wells next week, but I am not sharing them here! Jamie Philpot was missing from Glebe again yesterday, and no-one seems to really know why. Steve is still a little perturbed about his sending off last week, and is hoping that evidence from the video will help his cause. He seems a little subdued as well. It must be something in the air.
The teams come out from the opposite corner of the ground to where we are. I do like the park benches to the side of the pitch, it has to be said. As is usual, when we win the toss, Ryan switches the teams around, so we are attacking the goal to the right. As we make our way behind the goal, the ball is played over the top, the keeper and defender get into a tangle, Marcus Elliott is making a massive nuisance of himself, appears to get a foot in first, and the ball heads slowly goalwards and potentially for Marcus to follow in and score within 30 seconds. Except the referee blows his whistle. I don’t know for what, because given it is a drop ball on the restart, Marcus has not done anything wrong. Consensus was for a head injury to the keeper, but, whatever, it is a curious start to the game.
We get to the seating area behind the goal, where there is a “press” area with a table, so I nab it for the notebook and camera. It’s not the greatest of views, or angles for photos, but it will do. Within seconds Phoenix win a free-kick on their right. Ryan Hayes swings over a cross, Lewis Clark gets up first but can’t control the header and it goes harmlessly wide (see below).
Positive signs thus far. Phoenix popping it around, Canterbury sitting back, not pressing, and the visitors looking for openings. On 9 minutes Ryan Hayes puts in another cross, Marcus Elliott gets in the header, but it lacks power and it is a comfortable save for Lee Kidman in the Canterbury goal. On 15 minutes the home side have their first foray, but it is not a scintillating effort, a 20-yarder by Owen Punselie which is comfortably saved by Andy Walker.
Two minutes later comes Phoenix’s best chance of the half. The ball is cleared, and finds Dave Martin free of his defender, with one home player between him, and Alfie Evans to his right, and the goal. Dave does the unselfish thing and lays it across to the Mayplace Messi, who doesn’t get the right control (possibly a bobble) and scuffs the chance. A bit reminiscent of the chance at home to Glebe. The consensus of the behind the goal Phoenix Massive was that it was only a matter of time before class would out, but as I repeat in saying all the time, I am a pessimist. We are not in control until we are 3-0 up. Not Phoenix, not Millwall, not anyone.
Chances kept coming, mainly from set plays. A corner on 24 by Ryan Hayes reaches Lee Bird at the back stick who heads goalwards, but Kidman is there to gather easily. Two minutes later, another corner, similar location, and it is the King of the Barnehurst Jungle, Luke Leppard there, to head the ball, but this time it is wide of the post. On 28, a lovely piece of improvisation by Tom Cousins, with a cheeky reverse pass so nearly puts in Alfie Evans, and as I am a sucker for clever ideas, it merits a mention in the piece. But as this flurry of attacking intent yields no reward, the game slows down. The movement isn’t there, the passing is listless, aimless, the gameplan fails to materialise. Phoenix have had a number of these types of spells. They have, so far, managed to avoid catastrophe during them, more often than not, but we were starting to get concerned.
Then, on 41 minutes, while on the attack, a pass goes astray from Phoenix (I have not noted who it was, so blame avoided), and it is one of those that catches the defence a little too far forward. Suddenly Canterbury break down the right, the home player jinking one way then the other, and then pulls the ball across the face of the penalty box. There Tyrell Mitford takes the ball, controls it, and from what looks like 20 yards where I am sitting, buries a low hard shot to Andy Walker’s right and into the bottom corner. An absolute sucker punch, well-taken, and just how Canterbury might have scripted it. There’s dismay at our end. “We’ve given them something to hold on to now” says one.
The goal does not provoke much of a reaction prior to half-time, and indeed, Canterbury have another effort just before the break from distance which Walker saves comfortably, but isn’t a great sign going into the half, which comes shortly after. Losing 1-0, not the scenario we thought we might face.
The Phoenix Massive all take their leave and move towards the other end. I sit there, just one other fella staying and we bemoan the first half display. We haven’t really tested the keeper. I keep on about my theory that Ryan should play in front of the back 4 today and let some pace go down the wings, based on the way Sutton tore Canterbury apart late in the game earlier this season. I pack up my stuff and trudge around to the other end, get some pictures of the players as they come out. This is prefaced by a huge shouting rallying cry from the dressing room before Phoenix come out. It isn’t Steve, I recognise that voice anywhere (and, like everyone else today, seems to be on the chill pills, he has hardly said a word first half), and it is the first sign I’ve seen or heard of the severity of the situation. Phoenix have to be better.
For some reason, alright, a number of reasons, I’m not feeling my conversational best today (sorry to everyone who thought I might be a bit more aloof than normal today – it’s the lip, and other stuff) and I don’t stand as close to the Phoenix Massive in the second half. Partly because I want to get a better angle for the pictures, and partly to take my own views of what is happening. What happens, is 10-12 minutes of utter ferocity I’ve not seen from Phoenix this season. This is what we expected to see more often. The fabled head of steam. That elusive period where you pound the opposition into submission, gaining momentum, forcing your will on the game.
On 49 minutes a cross goes to the far post. Dave Martin is there and nods the ball back. It doesn’t fall for the Phoenix boys but Luke does his usual foraging, lays the ball back to Lee Bird who crashes in a 20 yard shot which is saved by Kidman. Intent shown. I have barely noted this down when Tom Cousins picks the ball up in his own half, drives forward, and as the opportunity opens up decides to have a pop himself which Kidman saves well. A minute later and the ball finds Ryan Hayes on the right side of the area, he brings the ball inside and from the edge of the box hits a low left foot shot that is on target, and agains Kidman is forced into a save. The pressure is mounting. Can Phoenix keep it up? Where is the equaliser?
Phoenix win a free-kick on half-way. Cleverly Dave Martin takes it quickly and as we’ve seen a number of times before this season, his cross-field pass to Ryan Hayes is excellent. Ryan gets it under control, takes the ball near to the bye-line, puts over a super cross, and crashing in at the far post is the Big Cat of Crayford, Luke Leppard to power in an unstoppable header to level the scores. The cheers from our end are of relief, and Phoenix have their reward for a spell of pressure. 1-1. Now what?
Two minutes later, and we found out. The ball found its way to Alfie Evans, midway inside the half. I am not lying to you, it was Oxhey Jets, but a little more central. I watch him advance towards the area, the defenders not sure what to do, backing off a little, and I shout “hit it Alfie”. No idea if he heard me, my voice doesn’t carry, but hit it he does. As it leaves his boot, it’s in. No doubt. The ball arc towards the top right corner of the goal as he sees it, a perfect strike, hitting the back of the net, with the keeper no chance. A terrific goal, an absolute gem from the Mayplace Messi. His mum and dad must be very proud. I text Paul that it is 2-1. The response from someone who says that he hasn’t got the bug yet? “Mayplace Messi”.
Phoenix keep the pressure on, and nearly score a third although there is a confusing offside flag. We win another corner, and Ryan hits another far post one which we think a defender turned on to his own post before the ball is cleared. The linesman has his flag up for something. As an aside, earlier in the half, Dave Martin is caught offside and his complaint is that the linesman was not up with play and was guessing. The linesman’s retort was “maybe, but I guessed right” was silently acknowledged by your scribe. “Nice reply”, I thought. Noted.
On 63 minutes Alfie has another shot at goal, but this time Kidman is equal to it. On 70 minutes Ryan Hayes gets in on the right hand side of the area, and his chip into the area / shot at goal doesn’t clear Kidman, who saved it with his eyes wide shut.
Canterbury really didn’t create too much after the second goal, but as I am a pessimist I never felt very comfortable with the lead as Phoenix started to make changes, taking off Cousins (injured), Lee Bird, Marcus Elliott and I think someone else, or are we allowed only three subs. City had an acrobatic shot go well wide on 70, Nwoko blasted a 20 yarder over on 75 minutes, and a free-kick outside the box was blasted into the wall and cleared from danger. I have no notes of anything Phoenix did in the last 25 minutes. They played the game out and took their place in the next round of the FA Vase. When the final whistle blew, it was job done, and a really strange feeling. It had been that kind of day really.
The players came over and shook hands with us, and that’s good to see. The club is built on that camaraderie and spirit and I think some of us know there is more in there, and something just isn’t gelling. But for heaven’s sake, it might be a tough watch, but in six games this season, five away from home, we have won 4 and drawn 2. As you will know, and as Mark was also saying, we need to work hard to win games at this stage of the season. As the games become more routine, maybe we will see the quality that the side undoubtedly has, come through. I don’t think the quick pitches favour us at the moment. Marcus had a really tough game today, and yet I think he played quite well in his other appearances for someone who has hardly trained with the squad. Tashi was injured, and we haven’t seen what he can do yet either. Maybe we should be patient, and yet that is not something football ever allows you.
There were all sorts of comments after the game, most revolving around “we just did enough”, “didn’t want to exert ourselves too much” “controlled the game after we got in front” and so on, and all decent points. Maybe they weren’t worried at 1-0 down, but I was! That 15 minutes of fury, where Phoenix imposed their will on the game was enough today. Canterbury were much better than they were at Sutton, much better organised, more savvy, but a little outmatched at times. But they were game and good opponents. To pick yourself up from a 10-0 defeat a couple of weeks ago speaks volumes.
So to the backdrop. The second half was played out to the sound of a band singing various cover versions at “Kevstock”. You do not get this at your regular Premier League fixture! Dave was on to this like a flash – you need to take one of these songs for the title of your blog post. It’s so transparent how I work that even Dave has sussed it. I did mention that I had taken the lyrics from one of the bands numbers on last week’s post….
So as Phoenix were attacking, we were getting a rendition of “Some Might Say” in the background. The crap Blur song “Country House” was recognised as being something that might apply to me in a few weeks – although my proposed new home is not a big house, a very big house. As the game subsided a little after the attacking, the band thought we might Live Forever, and then we played out the last few minutes to the dirge that is Coldplay’s “Yellow”. Look at the bloody stars, and how they shine for you. As we left the game, the band, who clearly like Oasis, started “Stand By Me”. Ah yes. The first line of that one could aptly describe the first half. Made a Meal, and threw it up on Sunday. I’ve got a lot of things to learn. I advised Dave’s kids that you should never do an Oasis cover, because there is only one Liam. I think they still think I am a banana loony toon.
On to the next round, and a shorter trip to Bridon Ropes, a wonderful name for a football team, on 24 September on the Charlton/Woolwich border (if such a thing exists). Bridon Ropes are in the SCEFL First Division, and Phoenix have to fancy their chances. But as today showed, you can’t take anything for granted. There were times when the display today made you think we might have.
As I left, missing Richard and feeling a bit bad about it as I don’t think I am going to get to Paper Mills before my move, I felt quite sad coming home. It is dawning on me that if all goes to plan, by the time of the next round of the Vase, I might either be moved, or about to be moved, and around 100 miles from the Mayplace. It’s really quite a sad thought. When the energy prices rocket like they are supposed to, I might have to rein back on how many games I might be able to come back for. I would love to come to most of them, but know this isn’t possible. I feel the knot loosening and I don’t like this feeling, As if I have to give up something I never knew I was looking for, and then found it. As Richard says to me many times, it is such a friendly club. You feel part of them, and them of us. It’s all transient, players come and players go. But I already see the Phoenix ethos. I like it. It will always be a part of me. It makes me feel a bit melancholy now, but the move is right. We will make it work, somehow.
Just to finish off. Look out for extra pictures on The Magpies and The Phoenix (link here). Also may write up a quick match report on the Paper Mills game on there too (picture space is running out on here). I have decided not to go to a game tomorrow, Bank Holiday Monday, and midweek looks a bit sparse. Back to work on Thursday. Sigh. But at least it is with Phoenix through in both cup competitions, living to fight another day. As Steve and the lads might say. Stand By Me. As I might say, in tune with the set list, Phoenix, with me, will Live Forever.