Regular readers of this blog will know that I love a bit of South London, me. There’s nothing more appealing to the non-league football fan from leafy Sussex than to travel into the Capital and absorb the sites, sights and sounds of the great seat of this nation, jousting with the playful nature of the Southern Rail timetable or driving along the pleasant highways and byways that make up the concrete capillaries of our countries beating heart…
Give me strength. The lovely comedian Linda Smith once said that Erith had a suicide pact with Dagenham (Dagenham being directly opposite, across the Thames) and the quicker they get on with it the better. Why Hollywood doesn’t set more zombie apocalypse movies in Erith town centre, I’ll never know. I opted for travel via the train again, partly because I like to live dangerously and partly because the heavens were opening up, and there’s driving in South London and then there’s driving in South London in the rain, neither of which are especially appealing although the rain undoubtedly brings out the *extra special* BMW drivers and quite frankly I’m stressed enough this season without having to make offensive hand gestures every 30 seconds on route to the ground. Once again, the ticket machine at the station offered me “via London” or effectively around London, but with the weather deteriorating rapidly, it seemed more sensible to go into London Bridge and come back out again, rather than criss-cross the rail network like Pacman on drugs. That plan worked ok until the journey home…
Now, while Erith itself has all the charm of Boris Johnson running through a wheat field, it’s of great credit to Erith Town FC that they’ve managed to get their club back within the city limits, so to speak, even if it’s at another blooming sports stadium complete with offensive running track. I’m going to moan about the stadium because that’s what I do, but I can well believe the options in the London Borough of Bexley are limited and the board and committee should take great credit for their efforts to get the team back inside the town that carries the teams name. It was all very well traipsing over to Crayford but it did feel like both teams were playing away. As the train rolled gently through the beautiful London countryside, taking in luscious Deptford and spectacular Greenwich, we trundled on to Woolwich where the thought occurred to me that it’s high time the Committee at Arsenal Football Club had the same visionary drive as Erith Town and finally brought their team back to Woolwich where they belong. The Arse left Woolwich in 1913, so really it’s about time someone sorted out repatriation especially when you compare this to Erith, who’ve only been out of their town for five years I believe. You’d think being so far away from Woolwich would surely be affecting Arsenal’s fan base by now?
I think this is third different “home” ground for Erith that I’ve seen the Crows in action on, as they also briefly shared a pitch at Cray Valley, and as I say, the latest venue is an athletics stadium with a big grassy area in the middle of the running track, where someone has optimistically marked out a football pitch. Unlike Croydon, where you can do your own laps of the ground, walking around the perimeter fence to at least try to improve your general outlook, the Erith Stadium only offers you one view disappointingly although with attendances as low as they currently are, that’s not going to cause too much of a problem. In fact, it reminded me more of Broadbridge Heath’s ground, rather than Croydon. The dressing rooms are on the opposite side of the stadium to the designated watching area which meant the teams eventually appeared from some distance away – whether they could hear us clapping or even see us, is something we may never know. With the rain lashing down, the Crows faithful (95% of the “crowd”) huddled together in the small stand or watched from the covered terracing outside the bar. The coastguard had been put on high alert and we kicked off with the Crows having the wind and the tide in their favour for the first half.
So we’ve got this far and I haven’t yet mentioned the disappointing news, greeting me on arrival at the Stadium, that our loveable goalkeeping rogue Dan Ellis has left the club again and gone to play for Chatham Town, the team he thwarted a couple of weeks ago. The Crows were knocked out of the Sussex Senior Cup on Tuesday night, after extra time and on penalties (a game I couldn’t get to) and all reports are that Dan was not happy about something, on top of losing the game. As yet, we don’t know what that was, out here in the spectating wilderness, but by Wednesday Chatham had significantly upped their financial offer and Dan was off, making his home debut against Deal yesterday and keeping a clean sheet, in contrast to conceding 4 to Deal on his return to the Crows at the beginning of September. He lasted almost exactly a month back at Alderbrook but I wish him well. He’s supporting a young family and Chatham is much closer to home. None of us are too sure of the goalkeeping situation now, as Dan Smith has joined Lordswood rather than sit on anyone’s bench, and Ryan Burbridge may still be injured. For the Erith game, we managed to borrow a keeper from Bromley on loan, who’s either Paul Agu or Paul Agh depending on whether you believe the team sheet or the team board (déjà vu). Paul did really well, especially given the appalling weather conditions and made two great saves to keep us in the game. I don’t know how long he’s sticking around but he seems up to the job.
We’ve got to this point in proceedings without me mentioning the game. As I said, the weather was shocking from the first whistle to the last, but the football was honest, and both sides tried to play as best they could. Erith will feel they should’ve got more from the game and they certainly had more chances on goal, but results are not decided on shots or corners or time with the ball, and the Crows undoubtedly deserved a share of the points for sheer effort, will and determination. Boro took the lead on 22 minutes with their first attack of the game but it was excellent play from Connor Pring, threading a pass through to Luke Leppard who looked up and picked his spot to put us ahead. Erith looked a little shocked by that and Boro dragged themselves more into the contest, with Harvey Killick working hard to find new signing Jerome Walker who clipped the outside of an Erith post with a good effort from just outside the box. Erith almost pulled the goal back right at the end of the first half, but a tame header was cleared off the Crowborough goal line, probably by one of the Tom’s although it was hard to see any detail or faces from where we were all standing. We trudged back up to the bar for half time and 15 minutes of drying out, while the club added a free digestive to the welcome cups of tea which was a nice touch.
The second half was more of the same, with Town now desperate to pull the goal back but Crowborough defending superbly and looking to catch Erith on the break, Elvis Onyenze looking particularly dangerous every time he got the ball. Agu (I googled it) made another fine save and it started to look like we were going to pull off a famous if somewhat soggy victory as we canoed into the last 15 minutes of the game. Unfortunately, we then conceded a free kick right on the edge of the penalty area which was simply driven along the ground through a crowd of players, finding its way straight into the net for an Erith equaliser. It was harsh on the Boro defence who were leading a charmed life from open play, as well as blocking anything goal-bound, but a fair reflection of the game up to that point – Erith certainly didn’t deserve to lose it. Both sides made substitutions as the heavy conditions took their toll, and both sides now started to have chances to nick all the points, Elvis O jinking his way into the box for the Crows but putting his shot just wide of the post. Erith even had the ball in the Crowborough net, but there was a clear offside and the goal had no chance of standing. Agu made another fine stop in injury time and as the referee raised the whistle to his lips for full time, Phil Appiah made almost certainly the greatest tackle of the weekend, coming from nowhere in the 94th minute to block a final Erith shot at goal that could quite easily have broken Crowborough hearts – it was that kind of performance from the Crows, where everyone pretty much made at least one outstanding contribution in the game at some point. Phil left his late, but it was a match-saving tackle when it came.
We waved and clapped frantically at our players in the distance at the final whistle and received the same back as they went through their warm-down. Any one of the Boro defence could easily stake a claim for man of the match but Tom Boddy was huge once again, with yet another captains display, steering the draw safely into its harbour. We left Erith very happy with the point and I headed back to the station where the London Bridge train actually seemed to be waiting for me, feeling like a nice touch and a stroke of luck initially. As I relaxed into my dry seat and contemplated a short nap, we reached Charlton where we were joined by about 150 happy Coventry City fans whose team had just nicked all three points at the Valley and who wanted to sing about it. They effectively knew two songs, one of which was dedicated to the hero of the moment, Amadou Bakayoko, who’d scored twice in the last 10 minutes to clinch the away win, and sung to the tune of the old hymn “Give Me Joy In My Heart” (adding “Bakayoko”), which I thought was crying out for some tambourine, although they improvised by banging on the train floor. The other song disappointingly and bizarrely was the old classic “Ten German Bombers”, the significance of which I’m unsure of, apart from the fact that the Luftwaffe levelled Coventry during the Second World War and perhaps they’ve never quite got over it. The Sweeney were on hand in numbers at LB to guide everyone safely down the escalators and they all disappeared towards the Northern Line and ultimately Euston, sounding like some crazy religious carnival as they danced through the shiny new concourse. They certainly would’ve been a lot happier than Villa fans heading home from nearby Millwall, probably on the same train….
I concluded that luck was certainly with me today – we’d nicked a point and Bakayoko had kept just the fans ugly rather than the mood (I can only imagine the joy of being on that train if Coventry had lost 1-2 rather than won 2-1) – and I decided to risk everything by buying a sandwich from Pret A Manger, before boarding a much quieter train home.
We reconvene at Alderbrook for the visit of a resurgent Bearsted on Tuesday night, so I’ve got 72 hours to work out whether “Give Me Joy in My Heart, Onyenze” is going to scan.
Forza Crows (oh, and it’s Dom WELSH!!!)