Saturday, 31 March 2007

Billingham Synthonia 1 AFC Totton 2

(3-3 on agg, Totton win 5-4 on pens)

Attendance: 2,386

FA Vase semi-final, second leg

The big match comes to Billingham. In the local paper the day before the chairman explained how he was getting in a burger van and printing a programme. He was anticipating a maximum of 1,500 fans but, in the event, 2,386 turned up, the size of the crowd compensating for the atmosphere-free layout of the stadium.

There’s a vast, rusting cantilever stand on one side and nothing but grassed banking on the other sides with a cinder running track around the pitch. The gap between the stand and the perimeter fence has a paddock feel and makes you think that horses will emerge onto the turf rather than footballers.

The away team sprinted out sporting pink and two of them wearing gloves. I was fully expecting a song including the lyric “southern pooftas” but sadly none was forthcoming. The Totton fans weren’t shy of their livery at all, chanting “Pink army, pink army” on more than one occasion. Synthonia were made of tougher stuff. One of their players left the pitch to have his head bandaged at which point all we needed for the makings of a vintage cup tie was a dog on the pitch. Instead we got a hat on the pitch, spinning on its rim like a wheel off a wagon for fully 30 yards. There can’t have been such a big cheer for the loss of an item of clothing since the last strip-o-gram at The Synners Bar. (Pic below shows said hat being removed from the pitch).

The incident was the highlight of a wind-blighted first half but after the break the action improved dramatically. Totton, having taken a lead in the first minute of the match, added a second with only about 10 mins to go. All over, we thought, but then, in injury time, a Synthonia man burst through to a one-on-one with the goalie and poked it home. "We" went wild!

In extra time Synthonia had a penalty saved and we kinda knew from that point what the outcome was going to be. Totton hit the woodwork too. And so to penalties which the away side indeed won 5-4. The winning kicker instinctively raced towards the corner flag but then realised there weren’t any remotely sympathetic fans there and so peeled away and back to his team mates in the centre circle. In fact, the total number of Totton fans, high up in the stand, only outnumbered the players two-to-one.

“Oh, well. That new Wembley’s shite anyway, isn’t it?” scowled a Synner on the way out. Cracking cup-tie - but what an anti-climax.

Celebrity footnote: Synthonia’s full back was Curtis Fleming who played for Middlesbrough against Chelsea in the FA Cup final 10 years ago and former Synners include Brian Clough.

And the name? Synthonia is derived from synthetic ammonia, a product of one-time club sponsors, nearby ICI.