Yesterday’s game at Earlsmead, Hendon v Bishop’s Stortford, was my 50th of the season and ninth in this season’s FA Cup. I’ve seen 6,515 games altogether and 439 of those have been in The Cup.
Hendon, now sharing Harrow Borough’s ground, have successfully negotiated their opening tie in each of the last 28 seasons. Their last ‘failure’ was in 1985 against Ruislip Manor. This time they started with a 7-1 home win against Biggleswade United but, currently 17th the Isthmian Premier, they were underdogs against Bishop’s Stortford, seventh in the Conference South.
Hendon, though, looked the better side in the first half-hour with the wind behind them and I thought an upset might be on the cards. Then a former Brentford striker called Kyle Vassell got to work. He scored a hat-trick in seven minutes, two of them spot-kicks for fouls, and it could have been four. Over-confidence caused him to tap a close-range chance into the exposed goalie’s hands.
Five minutes into the second period he did get a fourth, at my end finally, and a thumping shot from the edge of the box by Anthony Church made it 5-0 on 71 minutes, a minute after Vassell had been substituted! A best-of-season crowd of 269 had seen a very entertaining Cup tie. I walked back to Northolt tube station, the wind getting chillier.
Saturday’s Cup match was Whyteleafe v Chatham Town, only a six-minute train ride from Mum in Purley. I was one of the 2,164 who saw ‘Leafe play Chester City at Church Road in their only appearance to date in the First Round Proper in 1999 and it turned out to be a disappointing afternoon. ‘Leafe were on a great run, notching 18 goals in their last four games and second in their league, but too many players failed to rise to the occasion.
It looked like they had at least forced a 1-1 draw until their Isthmian Division One North visitors won it in the 90th minute. ‘Leafe’s No.4 let the ball bounce over his head, it was swiftly transferred into the box and Chats’ Alfie May converted from a couple of yards out. The game had started a little late due to traffic problems on the M25 and I missed my usual train back to Purley. Pretty miserable all round, really.
My two games during the week were Southall 0-4 Crawley Green and Camden Athletic 4-1 Regent Legend. At the latter there was something that sounded like a gas explosion in the last few minutes with the ground shaking at Market Road. But play continued until some of the floodlights blew out. Then there was a smell of burning as the lady ref took the players off. As it was so near the end, perhaps the league will allow the result to stand.