On Saturday I made my first visit to Hanworth Villa, the Combined Counties League Premier Division club whose ‘Rectory Meadow’ ground is a two-mile walk from Feltham station.
They were playing Eastbourne United, currently at the summit of the Sussex County League’s Division Two, in the Fourth Round of The FA Carlsberg Vase and it was one of the craziest games I’ve ever seen.
This tie had been postponed the previous weekend. During the week, with a lot more rain having fallen, the pitch had been described via Twitter as “soggy” and then more promisingly as “damp”.
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I ‘phoned the ground before setting out and there didn’t seem to be any doubt that it was on. In fact, the conditions were as good as you could hope for in January.
Both teams looked nervous in the early minutes, with neither club having previously reached the Fifth Round according to the excellent programme, but Villa had more of the ball and were winning all the throw-ins and free-kicks.
Then United scored twice in four minutes midway through the half and could have led by at least a couple more at the break.
United were content to defend their advantage in the second half and I could see Villa, with their pacey forwards, really making a game of it. Almost immediately they hit the inside of a post and they had just levelled at 2-2 when the weather briefly intervened with about 15 minutes to go.
It had been dry and sunny at the start but a crosswind became more and more noticeable. During that second period the rain got heavier and the wind stronger and when the storm-like conditions made it impossible to play football, the ref quickly took the players off.
I had stood behind a goal in the first half but switched to a spot at the back of the covered standing area with the clouds a menacing grey and it was packed in there.
The noise was relentless and one chap had a life-size cardboard cut-out of former screen goddess Marilyn Monroe that he was banging against the roof as they all shouted “Villa! Villa!” It was fantastic support for a team at that level.
The rain, now almost horizontal, was blowing straight into us, so most repaired to the clubhouse. I stood in the ‘Gents’ for a few minutes with some other chaps, similarly bedraggled, until someone said: “The players are out again!”
Villa, having lost some of their momentum, couldn’t find a winner and the teams were still level after 90 minutes. They lost one of their forward players to injury, having used all three substitutes, and United took full advantage.
They scored five goals in extra time, including a penalty in the last minute that resulted in a red card for a Villa player!
The game finished at 5.30, by which time I was almost the only one watching. I may have missed the first 20 minutes of ‘Splash!’ – but it was a small price to pay.
What I was really hoping for on Sunday morning was to be standing out in the open in driving rain.
I got my wish as Ernst & Young drew 2-2 with LBS Alumni in Regent’s Park to bring me up to 6,581 games.
No more rain, please!