Saturday, 24 October 2009

Hendon 0 Woking 5

FA Cup fourth qualifying round
Attendance: 528

And so my FA Cup trail finally leads me to Wembley. Not Wembley stadium, not even Wembley FC but to see a tie at their ground, Vale Farm, which the club shares with Hendon. The road to Wembley was torture – which wasn’t a reflection of my three previous ties but the horrendous traffic in the town. I had more than enough time to admire the window displays of Primark and the 99p Shop on the High Street. Fine emporiums. The 11-mile drive from where I was staying with family to the ground took 70 mins. My brother-in-law, nephew (pictured above) and I heard the whistle blow as we jogged from where we parked and got into the match just in time to see Woking take the lead which set the scene for the contest (more of which later).

As it turned out, there would’ve been no point in getting there much earlier to soak up the atmosphere. There was none. The crowd was the second lowest of the round. I guess in London that there’s less of the ‘town turning out to cheer on their lads’ and since Hendon weren’t even playing in their own borough the support was even less passionate. It felt like we were in the second qualifying round rather than just one win from the big time. Echoes of Newcastle Benfield Bay Plastics, in fact.

The ground is ramshackle. I suspect that the formidable head-to-toe turnstiles (perhaps the idea is to keep fans in) came from Wembley stadium or arena and the giant clock over the tunnel looks like it originated at one of the nearby stations. The dug-outs are literally just that – but the players sat on a little wall in front of them which rather defeated the purpose of the excavation. On the opposite side of the pitch you could see where the old dug-outs used to be, the empty holes gaping like cavities left by removed teeth. Most satisfyingly, you can see the Wembley stadium arch from pitchside. Vale Farm – where England trained before the 1966 World Cup – even has an arch of its own. Predating the more famous arch, it used to span the path leading up to the turnstiles but is now fixed to a board above them.

Next door is the Fantasy Island Play Centre. I could see various chaps watching the game from the top of a slide which stood proud of the perimeter wall. Somehow several ball pool balls had found their way behind a goal. They caused an incident – not quite of beach ball proportions – in the form of a one-man pitch invasion of sorts. A Woking fan called Jim, fag hanging from his smirking mouth, collected them all up during the second half – not to take home for his child as I’d expected but to feebly toss at the Hendon goalie. Hardly throwing darts at Schmeichel at the Den, is it?

Woking had the big boys swagger about them. Prior to last season’s relegation they had been in the Conference for 17 years and the gulf in class was immediately apparent. They were two up in 20 mins (see pic, below) and it was game over. I’d spent some time convincing my relatives of the unique appeal of the FA Cup qualifiers and I could see them wondering what I was on. The Cards – as in Cardinals – then went three nil up and suddenly I had renewed hope: were we about to witness a cricket score?

I rejoined the lads after my customary circuit of the pitch. I found them behind the Hendon goal, of course, as there was no doubt where the action was going to be. They even picked the right post to stand beside. The fourth goal was drilled in just inside it, the hapless keeper made some great saves in our direction, one shot zoomed overhead like a torpedo and a penalty also rattled the said woodwork. (Harry Arter and Giuseppe Sole, both on hat-tricks, had been debating who should take it). At the other end Hendon also hit the frame of the goal from the penalty spot (their only chance in the second half) and there were a couple of sending offs into the bargain. Five minutes from time Harry got his hat-trick.

No cricket score then but the biggest thrashing of the round and, in the end, a more than satisfactory first FA Cup qualifier for my companions. We equally enjoyed our afternoon under the arches.

Programme notes: Programmes have sold out at both of the last two ties I’ve been to. Come on, club secretaries: print a few more! I so miss my essential bedtime reading.

Click here for 10 mins of highlights. I love the way the commentators voice suddenly hushes when someone scores a goal. In the Cards’ next match Sole got both goals in a 2-0 win over Dover. Headline writer’s dream, or what?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Just a quick note on the programme front - we can't afford to make a loss on their programme (we only just about break even over a season) so it's actually preferable to sell out early rather than misjudge (as has often happened in the past) and make a huge loss with hundreds going unsold. If you want a Hendon v Leyton Orient or Hendon v Notts County one from the 90s, we've got several boxloads still around!

Can't argue with your assessment of the game - we were well beaten. Arter in particular was outstanding.