With all the things going on in that parody of life that exists outside of Football, I have been lacking the time to do reports of Wingate & Finchley’s early season matches. So lets do a quick round-up of the season so far. A glance at the first 4 fixtures was enough to raise a couple of concerns – first up was a home match against Canvey Island. Canvey have a reputation that extends into the lower professional leagues. They are proven giant killers and will certainly be in the promotion battle at the end of the season. Next up would be Enfield Town – games between the sides are alway close run things and I think that the honest among us would admit to stealing the last three league fixtures from them. Following on would be Hastings away – a trip to the seaside against a team that struggled last season. We would hope to have the measure of them. Finally, Carshalton at home – probably a tight game but we should be able to shade it with home advantage.

Canvey Island duly arrived in their regular Milestone of Canvey coaches. It was a baking hot day and I was glad of the chance to have a cooling beer before the action started. Perhaps because of the heat or possibly because it was the first game of the season, play was a bit circumspect and chances relatively few. We had one good chance when Murat threaded a ball through the defence into Leon’s path only for him to be ruled offside… I wasn’t convinced but I’m not the one charged with waving a flag!

The second half saw Canvey take the lead. Despite The Blues best efforts and some goalkeeping between the sticks for Canvey that would best be described as dodgy, it proved to be impossible to get back on even terms and the game fizzled out to a 0-1 loss. So there we go – the first defeat of the season under our belt. In fairness, it was a very even game which bodes well for the season. The fear of an opening match drubbing had receded and Wingate were probably deserving of a draw. A couple of days after the match I received an email from Canvey’s webmaster asking to use my photo of the Milestone coaches for advertising their coach trips to away games! I was more than happy to oblige. Us non-league fans have to stick together, at least before and after the match – there’s time for tribalism during the game šŸ˜‰

I couldn’t get to the midweek match against Enfield. It’s probably the closest thing to a local derby now that we are in the premier division. Once again it was a tight match with Enfield nicking it 2-1 in injury time after the 90th minute – vengence for the close games we’ve pinched from them. The fans were left scratching their heads – as one said to me… “If you’re playing bad and losing you can see what’s wrong and work on it – But we’re playing well and losing – how do you fix that?”

Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside… Off to Hastings for the next match. Alasdair and I travelled down on the train from Victoria rather than the more traditional route from Charing Cross. It takes longer, around 2 hours, but represents a somewhat cheaper option. We arrived early enough on a grey windy day to take a walk along the seafront and enjoy the sea air. I introduced Alasdair to The Stade – a shingle beach where the inshore fishing boats of the Hastings and Rye fleets have been drawn up since around the time of the Norman Conquest. It is a fascinating place to visit for photographers – such a shame it was a dull day.

Match Fat
Match Fat šŸ˜‰
The forecast was for showers, some of them heavy, and typically they moved in as the match kicked off with the wind sending the fine drops horizontally across the pitch, making photography almost impossible at times. Wingate, in the new white shirt and black shorts away kit, had much of the early play and several attempts on goal – most of which drifted wide. In the conditions challenges were scrappy and there was a lot of shirt pulling… Matt, one of our regulars, takes glee in referring to Lairdy as “Match Fat rather than Match Fit” – you can see the evidence for yourself in the photo!

Hastings took the lead with a sudden breakaway and their only real chance of the half midway through. Wingate and Finchley resumed the attack and in the dying minutes Sam Berry whipped in a cross to Leon’s feet. He did some deft footwork to evade the defenders before slotting it home whilst losing his footing on the sodden turf. The sides went in tied 1-1 at the break. The second half saw the home side retake the lead after 10 minutes and after that it seemed that the visitors heads went down. The attacks were largely ineffectual and not pressed home as if the players had concluded that it wasn’t going to be their day. Meanwhile, Hastings hit the woodwork and forced a fine save from Bobby – they should have been 3-1 up rather than just one goal to the good after that period. Lairdy had a good run into the area but his shot struck the post and rolled into a harmless area for the defence to collect. Lewis had a final attempt to score from a free kick and was unlucky to see it beat both the keeper and the top right corner of the goal by a few inches.

So, 3 out of 3… Not a great start to the season and the complete opposite of what the team had achieved last season. Three wins had become three defeats – although the good news was that they were narrow defeats. If the pattern held true to form then the next result should be a draw – which did seem likely to be the result against The Robins (Carshalton Athletic).

In the event, it was to become a springboard for improved results (at least in the short term)… Carshalton turned up in a rather nice Setra 6 wheeler of Epsom Coaches and on another bright and sunny day I prepared for another afternoon of match photography. Paul, our press officer, had advised me that another photographer would be present – expressing a concern that he didn’t want to tread on my toes. I reiterated my view that the more photos taken of the guys in action, the better. It’s no skin off my nose – I take the photos for the pleasure of giving something back, not for personal kudos. So I was pleased to welcome Alex on board and to hopefully offer him some sound advice as we chatted from time to time during the game. I thought he did very well at his first attempt – (but then he is doing a photography degree). He was mightily respectful when he realised that I’m entirely self taught. I’m looking forward to working with him more often – two cameras with different lenses and photographers with different approaches has to be good for recording what goes on in a football match!

Anyway, back to the match – Anderson hit a superb strike early on which beat the keeper and hit the underside of the bar. As a photographer you get to understand a lot about angles – how light, and indeed, footballs bounce. The angle I saw that ball come down off the bar I knew from the halfway line that it had to have bounced beyond the goal line and should therefore have been given as a goal. But the linesman, who was closer than me didn’t give it and neither did the ref – it was Germany / England all over again (both teams have felt robbed of goals in similar circumstances). I don’t have the benefit of goal line technology, but I did have the next best thing – Alex, standing there down by the corner. Sure enough, from the ideal position looking along the byline, he confirmed that it was over by around a foot and therefore a goal. Sorry Anderson – you were robbed šŸ˜‰

It would get worse for Anderson close to halftime when he rose to meet a cross and was in collision with the Carshalton keeper. He fell to the floor and the keeper landed on top of him. There was a lengthy period of stoppage whilst initially the physio and subsequently NHS ambulance teams treated him. A ambulance was even brought onto the pitch and we all feared the worst especially as he seemed to be unable to move his legs. Accidents happen in sport and no blame is attached to Carshalton’s keeper. Anderson was stabilised and the ambulance departed for the hospital.

Leon hurdles the Keeper
Leon hurdles the Keeper
After the lengthy delay the game restarted and the players were a bit cautious in the remaining minutes to halftime. The second half took a while to get going but when it did W & F looked the most likely to score. Even so, it took a sliced clearance that dropped to Leon to provide the opening for a goal – one-on-one with the keeper Leon poked it wide and a bit too far forward before hurdling the keeper. He then danced a beautiful ballet around the rapidly closing defenders before striking the ball cleanly between defence and the diving keeper to score the only goal of the game.

So – finally – a win and three points on the board. The relief among the players and supporters was palpable – we would have declared a national holiday if it was within our power to do so! Even so, it was overshadowed by concerns about Anderson – Leon was wondering in the bar about which hospital he’d been taken to. The good news is that it was just a concussion and the loss of the use of his legs would appear to have been a shock reaction – he was back playing for us the following week – I can’t tell you how much of a relief that was. It has been one of the delaying factors on this post!