Ware. Final pre-season friendly in 2008.
"SUNDAY 10th AUGUST
Thursday’s Press Release gets 200 words on page thirty-seven of The Non-League Paper, alongside their Ryman League Preview. The piece contains the usual level of inaccuracy. Non-League Today also devotes 200 words to the story, but it makes page two and we get a picture of some fans – showing the back of young Charlie’s head, Nick, Mello and a laughing Liam. With much of the local press hitting the news-stands on Thursday, perhaps the timing of the Press Release could have been better, but I suppose it had to follow the EGM.
It’s time for a few Abbott & Costello “Who’s on first?” type jokes. Hendon’s last pre-season friendly is in Ware.
Though there will be training sessions on Tuesday and Thursday, this is the final piece of serious preparation for the season. Before the game, the oft-postponed Ground-clearing Day finally takes place. After a fry-up breakfast in Selma’s café on Kilburn High Road, I’m at the ground by ten. There is a good turn-out and things are well underway. There is surprisingly little to do. I’m more of a “dig a hole” or “chop a tree” man than one for fiddly tasks like scraping the moss out from cracks in the ancient terraces. There’s not even anything I can get my secateurs into. After a few snacks from the tea hut and a couple of souvenir photos of what will almost certainly be the last annual clear-up, we finish-up at one o’clock.
It’s too late to travel to Ware by public transport and most people are less than keen on the journey. A couple of those with cars narrowly decide in favour of the trip and a handful of fans pile in.
In spite of a phone-call from a five-year-old, who wants me to take him to the park, I make a decision to pedal up to watch the game. Heartless bugger that I am.
I certainly appear to have a heart on the road to Ware. I accept that I’m rather fatter than I have been on some occasions, (actually, I’m fatter than Neil Ruddock and Tommy Brolin were during their least-svelte Premiership days) but I’m more than a little disturbed to discover how unfit I am. It’s almost exactly twenty-five miles from Claremont Road to Ware. Given the state of the traffic between the M1 and the A10 on the North Circular Road, I thought eighty minutes was a reasonable time. I’ve no complaints about the gear I pushed or my speed – it’s just that I wasn’t aware my ticker was capable of beating quite as fast as that. I feel like a disposable extra from “Scanners”, the weird David Cronenberg film from about thirty years ago. Either that or I’m about to do an impression of John Hurt in “Alien”. Scary.
It’s a reasonably warm summer’s day and I stop in the town centre to down a litre of Lucozade in one hit.
On the playing front, Hendon haven’t had a bad week of preparation, with a 2-2 draw at Potters Bar Town on Tuesday and a 3-2 win at Enfield Town on Thursday. Both games featured the odd unsigned trialist, with the mercurial Rob Ursell starting on Tuesday. There was to be no sign of the mercurial Mr. Ursell today.
The self-delusion and tokenism in this country is mindboggling at times. Ware’s ground is adjacent to a fitness and leisure centre. All good stuff: anti-obesity, healthy, green... all the usual spiely government bullshit. There’s a nice big car park, with plenty of lines of little trees to divide it into environmentally pleasing sections, creating an illusion of rural tranquillity. Plenty of four-wheel drive farm vehicles in evidence – I hadn’t realised there were still so many farmers in the area.
Is there anywhere to sling a bicycle at this bastion of well-being and contentment? What do you think? This country is a joke.
Having done a couple of laps of the car park, without seeing so much as a post, and locked the bike to the outside of the fence surrounding the kiddies’ play area (probably committing an offence by doing so under some local “Community” bylaw), I hike back across the car park and enter the ground.
No sign of a teamsheet, much less a programme. There’s a fair Hendon contingent. Several were obviously in church this morning and were consequently unable to join the work party earlier on.
The highlight of the afternoon is undoubtedly the gut-busting Ware FC Mega-Burger. At £3, it is one of the season’s best value purchases. The Mega-Burger consists of a beefburger, a rasher of bacon, a sausage, a slice of cheese and some onions in a large, fresh bun. They have proper ketchup and mustard. There’s a free tea thrown in for good measure. Showing just how well-assimilated to the Glaswegian culture of healthy eating they’ve become, the Hendon Orange Order tuck into several Mega-Burgers each. Very enjoyable, though I don’t think my heart will be sending me a thank-you note for today.
Ware play in Ryman One North and are expected to be promotion contenders. It’s a very enjoyable first fifteen minutes. It’s a bit of a mare for the keeper from Ware, who’s culpable for all three Hendon goals in that period. Charlie Mapes curls a free-kick past the statuesque stopper for the opener. We’ll gloss over the free-header that left Luke Blackmore motionless for Ware’s equaliser. Brian Haule and Mark Kirby each capitalise on further pieces of comical custodian chicanery to convert from close range and give the Greens a 3-1 lead. It’s not such an enjoyable last seventy-five minutes. The tea-hut runs out of bacon for the unexpectedly popular Mega-Burgers and there’s some fairly stodgy football on display. Concentration is beginning to wander on the terraces by the time Ware get back to 3-2.
Taking the Mickey out of the home players has become the order of the day amongst the visiting fans. Liam is more subtle than the Orange Order, who occasionally make Ian Paisley look like Noel Coward on a particularly whimsical and incisive day. The home number four barks orders in rather shrill tones. I almost expected him to break into the intro of “Sugar Baby Love” at one point. Liam puts on a Harriet Harman twitter to imitate him. Others join in a twittering chorus. The number four responds with a, “Shut up! You’re boring!” This obviously increases the piss-taking. Sod’s Law dictates that the unfortunate number four soon unleashes a perfect looping header over his keeper for an absolutely classic own goal. 4-2.
The day is rounded-off nicely when Blackmore saves a penalty from Ware’s ex-Hendon number nine John Frendo. There were half-a-dozen Hendon substitutions late on, but I should think the starting XI was close to the side that will take the field against Dartford next weekend, though there was the odd experiment with positions and formation. I’m not a great fan of complex formations at this level. On the evidence of this afternoon’s display, I can’t say I’m especially confident about Saturday.
In spite of urgings to accompany some of the more youthful fans on a train, I decide to stick with pedal power. I’m not exactly disappointed to see the clouds open on the way back down. I’m riding into a rare southerly wind and an excuse to go more slowly than normal is welcome. I’m a bit wet by the time I reach the North Circular, on which the tailbacks start just after the A10. With the Community Shield on at Shit-Hole-on-Circ, the traffic isn’t moving. Five-year-olds and parks can wait. I’m not riding around that crap on a bicycle. I cut down towards the middle of town and then home.
They should definitely have put the National Stadium somewhere in the vicinity of Birmingham."
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