There was some competitive action at last for The Barber on Saturday.
Sixty-eight days after being privileged to watch the Championship Play-Off Final at Wembley, I felt equally honoured to be present at Cove’s opening Combined Counties League Premier Division fixture of the season against Horley Town.
It was my first-ever trip to Cove, near Farnborough in Hampshire, and it involved a 35-minute train journey from London Waterloo to Farnborough Main and a ten-minute walk to Oak Farm, the Squirrel Lane home of a club formed back in 1897. Opponents Horley, from close to Gatwick Airport, started just a year earlier.
There were lots of old photos of bygone Cove line-ups in the clubhouse – I noticed a couple from the 1920s – and a cold drink slipped down very nicely on another scorching afternoon. Someone at the bar announced that England were “137 for 4” – but, to be honest, I’m as interested in cricket as I am in car insurance.
I sat in the back row of ‘The Ron Brown Stand’ with its yellow seats and counted 26 spectators at kick-off.
Precise play was difficult on a hard bumpy pitch and with a stiff breeze blowing from end to end. The Horley No9 was launching some amazingly long throw-ins from both sides, possibly the longest I’ve seen, and it was the visitors who took the lead on 32 minutes.
There was an unusual period of play after that, when the referee was hit by the ball three times in the space of about 10 seconds, as players attempted some short passes along the ground. The poor official was trying so hard to get out of the way.
Cove finished third in the table last season behind Egham Town and Guernsey, both of whom have been promoted to Step 4, and they should really have won on Saturday.
Their No9 equalised with a penalty on the hour, a bullet of a shot into the bottom corner, and there were many more Cove chances right up to the last moments of stoppage time.
Two Horley fans were sitting in front of me and I liked one of their shouted comments to a Cove forward: “You’re a quality player…in your head!”
It was £7 to get in, including a programme, and everyone was very welcoming. According to that programme, Cove’s forthcoming FA Cup tie with Carterton Town “sets us on the road to the Twin Towers of Wembley”.
I saw my 10th and last pre-season friendly of 2013-14 at Hanwell Town last Tuesday. They lost 2-1 to Egham, now a level higher than Hanwell after promotion, and all the goals came in the last few minutes. So that’s 11 matches this season and 6,476 in total. I have a late meeting tomorrow afternoon but will try to get to Orient v Coventry.