At the match: Bexhill United v AFC Varndeanians

Belligerent attack and defence – Copyright (C) Jon Smalldon 2017, all rights reserved

“I don’t know what you’re complaining about, you’re in the lead …”
“Are we?”
“Aren’t you?”

You know it’s been an afternoon when the home side’s centre forward not being aware scores are level rather than (as he thought) showing a lead for the opposition isn’t the most interesting memory. It was 1-1 at the time of the chat with a vexed Vardeanians fan but the more telling score was 11-9, as Bexhill had a full compliment of men on the pitch but their visitors from Brighton were down by 2. That score finished 11-8 and the cold facts will show that Bexhill managed to complete the game ahead on goals 2-1. I doubt a single person on the away coach thought any of it was remotely fair.

AFC Vardeanians did not want the game to go ahead. The Polegrove pitch was firm to frozen where the stand had cast its shadow, heavy elsewhere. Their bench made repeated attempts to show that it was too dangerous to proceed. At times they could have put themselves forward for the Turner Prize such was their commitment to performance art of the “Man Confronting His Destiny on a Frosty Sussex Field” type. Maybe if they’d converted their early penalty instead of firing it wide they might have been happier.

Bexhill took the lead around the 25 minute mark, ten minutes after that missed penalty. It was 1-1 at the break though as Varndeanians more than matched their hosts. They may have complained but they were definitely in the mix. Very shortly after the break it all went wrong. Jamie Cradock committed a series of fouls, two of which saw him get a yellow card. The protests from his teammates led the ref summoning captain Joe McTiffen and, from that conversation, another red was produced. Who knows what was said that led to that but its impact on the game was decisive. Varndeanians organised themselves ferociously. A nine man moving defensive unit determined only to repel, and not to create. Bexhill struggled to work their way round it.

The bar was rattled and there were good saves but it looked like the visitors’ hard work was going to be rewarded with a point but a final scrappy bout of pinball saw a goal for Kev Barden. It was too much for some. The linesman who had frequently flagged for offsides was now accused of being bent. One player went far too far as the match restarted – I caught a bit of it, I’d have sent him off – and the ref wasn’t left with much option. Vardeanians ended the match with eight men and, let’s assume, a growing sense of bitterness. Their defensive shift was one of the best I’ve seen in a long time and deserved more than they got.

I brought along the camera. Some photos are here.


On the Radio: The Devil’s Passion

December is an odd time to choose to put on a passion play but then Radio 3 do like to do things their own way. And so, to celebrate the first Sunday of Advent, the clever clogs from the Third Programme went with Justin Butcher’s The Devil’s Passion which starred David Suchet as Satan, looking on as Y’Shua Bar-Yessuf knocked down all the gates on the way to becoming humanity’s saviour.

An impressive soundscape covered our Satanic means of observation.  CCTV, donkey disguises, and drone coverage of betrayal. Jesus ploughed serenely on but the Devil was getting lost in impotent fury. Think of it like a more worldly, sinister Screwtape Letters. There were some decent lines and Suchet had a blast. Satan came across like one of those alt-right warriors who want to disrupt everything in the name of freedom but who then struggle to understand why people choose to act the way they do; Jesus’s compassion was nicely played without being cloying.

I assume, for Holy Week, Radio 3 will be giving us a nativity as reimagined by the guiding star.

At the match: Bexhill United Ladies v Ashford Ladies

The team talks just before extra time … Copyright (C) Jon Smalldon 2017

There’s an unspoken rule in football. An observation. When a game is about to go into extra time watch the teams. The one that sits or in any way relaxes is about to lose. The photo above is moments before the start of the first period of extra time. Both teams are champing at the bit, a game which drifted for long periods in regular play coming alive in a frenzy of hard tackles, red cards, chances, challenges and running as the ninety minutes ended. And the fans were the same: what started with a few people almost killing time in the stand ended with everyone up to the barrier and beyond. A proper cup tie, you could say.

“This feels like a very long game …” so said the lineswoman as play carried on the ensuing gloom at the far side of the field. She meant it positively.  “So much has happened,” she added. Far more than I can relate, given that I don’t take notes and spend endless time cursing my ability to focus the lens properly. Ashford, in luminous green, took the lead in the first half when a shot that should have been saved beat Bexhill’s stand-in goalie in bright orange. They held the lead until early in the second half when their own keeper in bright orange let a dolly shot go between her legs – the only blip on an otherwise commanding display, such is the lot of goalkeepers.

There were some good moves but the heavy pitch led to some leaden running and encouraged some very hard challenges. From very early on there was an edge as players from both sides made sure the other lot were being kept honest. The only surprise, in the end, was how late it was when it all flared up. A challenge, a retaliation and suddenly there are 20 odd players and coaches going for it. The tension hung in the air afterwards but there was nothing to spark another incident.

Instead, we got a demanding extra thirty minutes. Both sides created but it was a strong strike from distance by Bexhill that won the day.

So, at the end of the day, Bexhill progress to the next round. But if they crave league points more than cup glory they know they will have to do it all over again. Ashford are just above them in the table and the two sides must meet in the league. The way this game sizzled throughout, it should be another hot and tasty one when that happens.

I took my camera. It took some photos. They will be here later in the week.

At the match: Tottenham Hotspur v West Bromwich Albion

The view from the seat – Copyright (C) Jon Smalldon 2017, All rights reserved

“Buy, sell tickets.” “Buy, sell tickets.” “Tickets to buy or sell.”

The sounds of the game don’t change, it’s the surroundings that do. It’s been an age since I saw a top-flight football game but still there are the things that trigger the memories. The smell of unbelievably awful hot-dogs, the man trying to shift scarves, the bloke coming on at half time trying to whip up some enthusiasm when your supposed champion standard team is a goal down to West Brom.

We remarked before kick off that if the result were based on team sheets then West Brom were in for a long day. As it turned out they did have a long afternoon but only because they took the lead inside two minutes when they got the ball to roll in following a group defensive lapse – and then proceeded to shut up shop. Ben Foster, their goalie, was first booed for time wasting on about fifteen minutes; he eventually received his yellow card for it on eighty-two minutes. My son reckoned that was the best thing about the game. I have taught him well. It’s a little unfair because Spurs did play some lovely stuff, it just didn’t often come connected to any attacking penetration. They equalised only when Jonny Evans made an error in not following Harry Kane and the goal machine could not miss. 1-1 your final score.

This wasn’t really a game that will live long in the memory beyond the personal fact that it was the first time I’ve seen football in the new Wembley and the first time my younger son has ventured into the world of professional football. These things count even after the sounds and smells of the day have faded.

At the match: Eastbourne Town Ladies v Crawley Wasps

The Crawley Wasps goalie looks on … Copyright (C) Jon Smalldon 2017, All rights reserved

At the end of the match there were smiles. A few sighs of relief. Crawley could congratulate themselves on another job well done. Eastbourne Town could finally relax. An afternoon chasing shadows and working hard just to keep up was over. The final score was 7-0 to the visiting Wasps. It could have been more.

The Saffrons is almost too idyllic a venue. Even the Pier Pressure posters talking about saving the NHS and smashing the Tories have a nice retro vibe that fits well in God’s Waiting Room. The leaves were autumnal red and the weak sun shone. There was a cold side of the ground in shadow and an optimistically named warm side where the benefit of the sun was negated by being unable to see anything thanks to the glare.

Crawley are insanely well organised and today nearly everything they attempted seemed to come off. Town are a good side. They are balanced and work well for each other. I saw them put away lower league opposition 7-0 in the Cup earlier in the season. Nothing went their way in this game beyond Lauren Callaghan, Crawley’s indefatigable number 11, twice striking the inside of the post. But by then she had already opened the scoring (a parried save fell into her path) and set up several others. The management team on the bench were finding plenty to comment on in their Wasps’ performance. When you’re top of the table and averaging winning  by nearly five goals a game I guess you have to seek perfection. Eastbourne’s team just asked for commitment. They got it in spades but some games are never going to go your way.

After this game, Crawley are well clear at the top and unless something odd happens they must be odds on for the title; Town will have days when the effort they put in today translates into a positive outcome.

I brought my camera. Some photos are here.

Podcast review: Jon Ronson’s The Butterfly Effect

As I write this, I am listening to Anoushka Shankar. Twenty-five years ago, if I had wanted to do this, assuming I could even have followed a remotely similar path to hearing about and then wanting to listen to an artist, it would have, at the very least, have involved me paying a library for a loan CD. Likely I would have had to buy an album. But, tonight, the music is coming via YouTube. I haven’t paid for it. I don’t even know if the video is legal and royalties will be forthcoming. And, as Jon Ronson points out at one point, the fact that the public care so little when musicians end up being forced to give their material away for free means that nobody cares at all when the people who are affected by the streaming revolution are the folk who make their living in porn. The Butterfly Effect takes as its starting point the creation of PornHub by “a man called Fabian” and follows the ripples out through all manner of stories. It’s a thrilling listen.

Fabian Thylmann is now 39 and is very rich. Combining the thinking of YouTube and his knowledge of data geekery led him to create the website that is now viewed by tens of millions of people, of all ages and backgrounds, every day. His appearances bookend The Butterfly Effect. Ronson is such a good investigator he could have taken any starting point and made the stories compelling. The series he did about ‘who controls the internet’ for The Guardian a few years ago is a good case in point. I never did find out who controls the internet but I do remember seeing the guy who wrote Rebecca Black’s Friday create something equally baffling for Ronson.

And so it’s the tales of people that make you listen. Some are almost harmless. A few wry asides about the quirks of the buyers in the custom porn world for example. Some make you angry like the details of some of the people on the sex offenders register and the impact it has on their lives. Some just leave you wanting the world to be a better place for all who deserve it. And there are plenty of examples of that. Ronson’s interest is not in the normally newsworthy items of trafficking or anything forced. No one is judged. Everyone is consenting even if the context of that consent could be situations well outside their area of control, all caused by those ripples in the air started by Fabian.

There is humour and sadness. Even just describing the dates and times when registrations on Ashley Madison spiked reveals so much about a world that is often hidden. This may not be a podcast for everyone. Some people will not be able to get passed their own feelings that pornography even exists. But for those who can this is a rewarding experience but never a comfortable one.

At the match: Bexhill United Ladies v Burgess Hill Town Ladies

An early contest for the ball – Copyright (C) Jon Smalldon 2017, All rights reserved

“This is my first time at a girls match,” the bloke trying to find a spot in the sun from which to watch the game said. He paused. “They know what they’re doing, don’t they?”

League Cup action in Bexhill. Not the Polegrove, the usual home of Bexhill United, but the even more windswept 3G pitch at the college. It wasn’t warm but it did mean the ball moved well and we had two sides playing good football to keep us entertained. They really did know what they were doing.

Burgess Hill took the lead after a scramble from a corner but Bexhill led 2-1 at the break. It could, and should, have been 3-1 as one shot rattled the inside of the goal-frame before coming back out.  It didn’t make too much difference in the end as a second half goal, another swung from the right wing that caused the ‘keeper too much difficulty, gave us that score in the end.

Bexhill should probably have more. They rattled the woodwork and forced some decent responses from the goalie. Burgess Hill played well and were always in the game without ever truly threatening a comeback. At the end everyone rushed off to find some semblance of warmth, pleased at least that the match had been one worth standing around for as the temperatures plummeted.

The camera was with me. Some photos are here.

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