Truth be told, I came to football rather late in life – I tend to do that with a lot of things. At a time when most of my school friends were professing their un-dying love for Tottenham, Arsenal and some team in the wilds of Manchester not far from the much more famous Trafford Park steam shed, I was taking a non-active interest in trains (I didn’t have the spare cash to go train spotting just the wish to do so!). It was during this period that I picked up the book Football Daft by Michael Parkinson. It was lying around in the jumble at the Scout hut and I thought I’d read it in the vain hope that it might give me some idea just what the other kids saw in football. I should say that I enjoyed the book (enough to have just bought a copy for my collection) but it didn’t at that stage stoke the fires of my imagination – Trains were doing that instead.
Starting work provided me with the money and opportunity to head off to the railways every weekend. From basic train spotting I grew to be a competent transport photographer and spread my interest to road transport as a sideline. I spent 15 happy years patrolling the tracks of the old British Railways network. I only took an interest in such football as was televised in those days but my main contact with the world of the beautiful game was the hooligan element on football specials – not the sort of thing that was likely to attract me (or a lot of other people) to attending matches 😦
A football team, once chosen, is for life (or should be)! Train spotting is not – though a love of trains remains in the blood for all time. In common with the many steam enthusiasts who hung up their cameras and put away their notepads in 1968, twenty years later I decided that a change was due as the last members of my favourite diesel locomotive classes were retired. A slow shift in emphasis towards plane spotting from around 1986 culminated in a full time change of hobby in 1988. In 1989 I pushed on to get a Private Pilots License, taking the aircraft enthusiast hobby to its logical conclusion.
The next 12 years would see me travelling around the UK and nearby Europe outside of controlled airspace and often in close proximity to nasty looking clouds. I met my wife during that period and the expected happened… She presented us with a Son in 2001. At the same time as all this was happening, football coverage suddenly blossomed on TV. Given the parlous state of TV since the demise of Monty Python and The Goodies, the improved football coverage was initially a breath of fresh air (though my wife might not agree). The 2002 World Cup proving a handy distraction whilst on baby minding duties.
My Son (Alasdair) was 4 when one week early in the football season he sprang the question… Daddy, can we go and see a real football match? Panic set in – A real match! Where would we go to see that? The likes of Arsenal and Tottenham were out of the question – too expensive assuming you could get tickets anyway. Closest league team to us is Barnet. I thought seriously about that one. I’d been watching Barnet’s struggles in the local rag for sometime as an interested bystander – wishing them well but never interested enough to go and see them. (Actually, I also keep a close eye on how Stenhousemuir are doing, but that’s another story.) The real issue at this point was – Would he be able to sit still for the 2 hours or so that a football match takes? No – I didn’t think so! Then I remembered that there is a non-league club on Summers Lane, Wingate & Finchley. Non-league – probably no issues about kids not sitting still there then! Decision taken, we duly walked to the ground on Saturday 26th of August 2006 for our date with destiny.
I don’t really remember much about that first match. Passing through the turnstiles was like entering a different world – not unlike passing through the ticket barrier and wandering to the end of the platform to see what’s in the station. The flat expanse of green with the players warming up however is an almost peaceful experience compared to the throb of high powered diesel engines that had greeted a young enthusiast at the end of platform 9 on Kings Cross all those years back.
We sat in the Home section of the main stand to watch the game with our sandwiches and drinks – It’s the only time I’ve sat in the stand during a match and the only time I’ve brought a packed lunch! You’ll always find me on the touchline these days. I would like to claim that we soaked up the atmosphere but there wasn’t enough to go around. If you’re used to seeing the crowds at a televised match, the absence of people at a non-league match is a little disconcerting – the attendance that day being 53.
The game was against Aveley FC, a team from the wetlands of estuary Essex. I can’t comment on the relative standard of the football, suffice to say that it was every bit as exciting as the better premier league matches on the box – in fact I enjoyed it more. There was a feeling of honesty about the effort and the tackles that sometimes seems to be missing from the game at the higher levels.
I know – the results can be found on the internet – that Wingate & Finchley won the match 1 – 0. The scorer was Jon Nichols who seems to have been a defensive mid-fielder and had moved to Wingate & Finchley during the previous season. He later disappeared without trace and I have no recollection of him. The one outstanding memory from the game was a terrible foul on the edge of the box by an Aveley defender which brought down and seriously injured Wingate & Finchley’s young striker Simon Patterson. Patterson was clearly a gifted player and was giving an exciting performance that caught my eye. One week later the career of Simon Patterson, a promising young footballer who would certainly have played at a much higher level, was cut short when he died in a car crash. For that reason my memories of my first match will always be tinged with a degree of sadness.
When the game was over I asked my son if he wanted to come again – Yes Dad was the reply. But whatever the reply had been my mind was already made up – I’d be back…