I was in rural Hertfordshire on Saturday afternoon, walking along muddied pavements to the Coopers Lane home of Old Owens FC of the Southern Amateur League’s Senior Division 1. Their ground is a 30-minute walk from Potters Bar station, which I had reached via the 12.36 from King’s Cross.
Four matches were going on simultaneously at Owens’ huge ground and the one I had come to see, an AFA Senior Cup quarter final against Old Minchendenians of the Amateur Football Combination, kicked off at 2.07 before a crowd that would peak at 27. I stood behind the goal at the clubhouse end and it was nose-drippingly, finger-numbingly cold. Inevitably the tie went to extra-time.
The match, played on a good pitch, was sometimes attritional but always watchable. There were no chances to speak of until the 12th minute, when a Minch player burst through the middle in his green and black striped shirt to fire a shot towards the left-hand corner that the ‘keeper did brilliantly to beat away.
But the ball fell to Minch’s No.6 and he blasted it into the net. As one manager famously said, “Football is all about the two m’s: movement and position”.
It was an even first half and it was anyone’s game. Owens were a lot more enterprising in attack after the break and Minch had to defend desperately at times. The little clock in my anorak pocket was going haywire but I think it was more or less midway through the second half when Owens were awarded a controversial penalty. It was actually on the say-so of the lino, who to be fair had been very close to the incident.
Three or four Minch players rushed over to him to remonstrate, a pointless exercise, and one of them was red-carded after telling the lino what a good game he was having. After a very long delay, which included a couple of substitutions, Owens’ No.20 calmly slammed the spot-kick into the bottom left-hand corner and I thought it likely that they would now go to win the contest and claim their semi-final spot.
The crowd had halved by extra-time, with the raw wind whistling round, and Minch surprised me by netting a classy winning goal in the first period. Then it was a 30-minute walk back to the station and fortunately there was a train back to London almost immediately. I got back to the hotel and fell asleep watching an Africa Cup of Nations quarter final between South Africa and Mali.
Matches this season = 111
Matches in total = 6,406