“Is this your first time?” So asked the Sussex groundhopper as I made my way through the muck covered path behind the goal to set up a position to take some photos. I tried to appear quite the veteran of East Sussex soccer but my interlocutor, even more recently arrived, made my experience look puny. This is someone who goes to Battle Baptists and Hollington when the heights of the County League get too dizzy. I can’t compete with that. I just took some photos instead.
But what of the game? Well, we waited for a game of football to break out but it wasn’t that sort of afternoon. There was a lot of effort, a lot of physicality and a lot of passion. What there wasn’t, for most of the time, was anything resembling sustained, coordinated play. In the first half, when the tackles flew, that was kind of fun. In the second, as Westfield tired and neither team did much to inspire, it was less fun. But I can’t be too sad. Any match which features an exploding sugar bowl has to be worth remembering fondly. For the record, Sidlesham won 3-1, overcoming an early deficit to run out deserved winners.
Nobody is going to claim what we saw today was a classic but, as the man who goes from game to game to game will no doubt agree, that’s not why we’re here in the first place.
The rain relented enough to allow a soft pitch to play host to a hard match. League-leaders Bosham, the visitors to the Parish Field, came away with all the spoils but only after a tough encounter that required a somewhat dubious penalty to separate the two sides. Aye, it was a good day.
At the end, the Westfield players slumped as if they’d lost a semi-final and missed out on Wembley. Bosham didn’t quite dance for delight but their reaction betrayed that they knew they’d passed a bloody tough examination. The men in yellow had had most of the ball, rattled the crossbar, forced saves and sent shots just wide. But then, with their smaller amount of possession, Bosham had threatened, shaken the woodwork and pressured the goal. Whilst Westfield had their first-half penalty turned down (rightly, it was outside the box), Bosham had theirs given (possibly correct but very soft). That was the difference.
This was, as ever, a very enjoyable visit to Westfield. The chat around the pitch alternated between acknowledgement that Chelsea have wrapped up the Premier League title and discussion about whether Bosham, a dozen levels below, have enough of a ground to see them promoted. That’s football for you.
You know it’s non league when you arrive to see a kids’ party winding down in the clubhouse and leave a couple of hours later to the accompaniment of furious players and fans swearing at the officials, in between having watched a match of brutal commitment in difficult conditions. Bexhill were the livid hosts as, in the dying seconds of added on time, they let a win become a draw, but only the most myopic of Pirates fans would be able to say with a straight face that Oakwood did not deserve a share of the spoils. It was a good day.
We kicked off at 2pm because there’s something not quite right about the floodlights at the Polegrove. I stand firm in my belief that all non league football should start at two to save clubs down the pyramid a few quid on electricity bills. But, I digress. The wind seemed to be blowing from every direction and it was bloody cold. Thankfully, the rain that threatened around the start of the match did not, aside from a pathetic attempt just before half time, return. There was a female assistant referee. I wouldn’t normally mention this and I do now only to observe that many players and coaches present also noticed we had a female assistant referee. If you’ve ever seen Pepe le Pew in action you’ll have some understanding of the dialogue that, at times, followed.
Bexhill took the lead in the first half. A solid finish from a decent break. And, at the time, they were on top. A couple more chances came their way but Oakwood firmed up at the back and then began to control the midfield. By the equivalent point in the second half it was, counter attacks aside, one way traffic. The boys in blue were the ones with the ball and, as the challenges become harder, they were the ones proving slightly better at keeping their heads. Bexhill went down to ten men following a dismissal but still they managed to keep out the waves of Oakwood attacks. It was five minutes into added time when they cracked and the swearing could begin in earnest. A point each was fair but both sides will know that on another day they could easily have taken all three for themselves. Which is how it should be.
Today was the first run out for my new camera. It can do things that cameras have been able to do for a few years but my D90 can’t and so with things now falling off that one a purchase of a D7200 has been made. I’m a little in love. Some photos from the day are here. The one thing they don’t show is how little I could feel my fingers by the end.
The glorious sun gave way to cloud and intermittent rain but, in spite of the disappointing weather, those who made their way to the Parish Field had themselves an entertaining game of football, one that both sides will be annoyed with themselves with not winning and which ended with honours even and a 3-3 draw.
This was a topsy-turvy game that never actually really settled. The ball spent a lot of time in the air and neither side seemed able to put their foot down and control the match. If Sky were here they would almost certainly have 50/50 possession and 33/33/33 territory. Westfield led 1-0 and 3-2 and the visitors held the advantage at 2-1. The woodwork was rattled. The referee had to calm uncool heads. In the end hands were shaken with rueful smiles.
All in all, an enjoyable afternoon. I took some photos: they are here.
“I think we’re the crowd,” I said to the man next to me as our conversation about the Scottish Welfare Football Association came to a close. “I think we are,” he agreed. The only other people around us, five minutes before kick off, were club members, match officials and players.
After a mostly dry week, albeit one with stormforce winds that blew Hastings’ seafront helter skelter over, Saturday morning saw virtually every local football match fall victim to waterlogged pitches. Biblical rain began at the sunrise and didn’t let up until well into the afternoon. Somehow the sodden Parish Field home of Westfield passed the test and so we had a football match. There weren’t many here to see it (although it did grow beyond the two I’d feared) and those who were there stood cowering under the inadequate shelter provided by the small patch of roof attached to the clubhouse. The players stood up to the test though and whilst the match was never even close to classic it was far more skilful and entertaining than we could ever have predicted.
The only goal came on 31 minutes via the boot of Nick Boutal. Clear chances were as rare as clean jerseys but even with that the posts of both teams were rattled and there was plenty of probing attack – even if they were often undone either by the conditions or by strong defence. Remarkably, again given the conditions, the quality of play was decent throughout and nobody felt the urge to use the slippery surface as an excuse to take someone out with a full-on slide. The Westfield no. 16 deserves credit for ending the match looking like he’d spent the previous two hours on a rugby field at the bottom of a ruck.
All in all, a good time was had by most – I’m sure Westfield would have been happier if they’d finished with a point although Montpelier probably did enough to justify plundering the spoils. Around me there was talk that Westfield’s much planned new ground over the road could be nearing reality. A decent home is the least this excellent club deserve.
(I took the camera. Resultant photos, all from the same vaguely dry spot, are here.)
We arrived in a storm. Not one with a fancy name but one with heavy rain and in-your-face wind. There were no lights on at the Polegrove. It looked like everyone had given up and gone home, content to warm themselves with Davis Cup tennis and the remnants of Black Friday sales. But, no, tucked warmly in a hut by the entrance was a guy in hi-viz who assured us that despite the water, water everywhere there would be a game to see. And he was right. And so a few dozen hardy souls were treated to what was, in defiance of the conditions, a decent game of football, although with the final score being 6-1 to Bexhill it’ll be one, presumably, whose aesthetic qualities won’t bring much comfort to Steyning Town.
Steyning actually had the better of the early exchanges. With the strong wind at their backs they played some nice moves and looked the more likely to establish a lead. But on five minutes the first of many breakdown in team communication occurred leading firstly to a corner and secondly to a soft tap in. Still, even behind on the theoretical scoreboard the visitors had the lion’s share of actual possession. But they couldn’t make it count and Bexhill began to move through them more easily with some decent passing moves of their own. The lead was doubled midway through the first half and with the home side having the second half wind the result from then on was not really in doubt. The only real danger to the points staying at the Polegrove was the pitch and the rain relented just enough to ensure that referee Robert King was never going to have make that decision.
The second half saw the Steyning bench grow more and more frustrated as game plans were not followed and certain players were picked out for not putting in enough effort. Bexhill, with a regular flow of chances and goals, obviously had a happier time. A neat blast from Cameron Burgan was followed by a calm finish from Victor Pestana. Pestana got a second on 83 minutes but by then Steyning had themselves scored and their goal was the pick of the day. A well-worked midfield play saw the ball goal wide and Rob Clark’s finish made even the home supporters applaud. The sixth and final goal came with the final touch – a header from close in. The fact that the player could coast in through a defence well aware of his presence pretty much summed up Steyning’s day.
We left with the weather about to erupt again. Rain was falling heavily by the time we got home, the wind had never stopped. The lights were presumably still on at the Polegrove as players and fans sheltered and savoured their win.
(I took a handful of photos in the opening minutes before it all got a bit unreasonable and I made my home in the stand. They are here.)
The last time I went to Westfield I ended up at a caravan park cursing my SatNav. This time, suitably prepared, I knew exactly which hedge to drive through to get to the Parish Field home of the Westies. Their visitors, Billingshurst (who have the unlikely nickname of “Hurst” according to Wikipedia) had made the arduous journey from West Sussex for this game in what is no longer called the Sussex County Football League. They made their way back having achieved the unusual feat at this level of playing a game and neither scoring nor conceding any goals.
When I arrived Westfield were focusing their warm up on getting the keeper to dominate the box and then set up an attack. Billingshurst similarly had a defensive focus in much of their play. The result was a hard game with few very clear openings. The visitors did hit the bar and there were occasional glimpses of attacking potential but the match never really settled and neither team had any spell where you could say they were dominating. A draw was a fair result. Nil nil a reflection of the teams’ desires to be solid.
But if the game wasn’t great it was still a pleasure to attend. October hasn’t yet turned wintry and the afternoon sun was pleasant. A few good chats were had and it was good to catch up with the Hastings Observer correspondent whose Saturdays are spent chasing sport across his paper’s dominion. I hope his SatNav never sends him into the wrong hedge.
Westfield will be pleased to have arrested a three match losing run; Billingshurst looked disappointed at the end and will expect to stay above their hosts in the table throughout the season. I expect to be back in the future. And, next time, I expect goals.