Diary of a Ground Hopper
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 16 Thame United 2 Moneyfields 3
AFTER taking in a low-level Hop game in the North Berkshire League, Division Three in the morning, The Fox and I head for Thame in the afternoon. An easy 20-mile drive through pleasant Oxfordshire countryside sees me pull in to a large car park at the ASM Stadium in Meadow View Park. The complex reminds me a bit of a scaled-down St. George’s Park, England’s soulless but spick and span training ground in Staffordshire. I remember visiting Thame’s previous home at Windmill Road. It was far more to my taste than today’s corporate but characterless venue. Having said that, this is a tremendous facility for the community. I pay £7 at the gate and another £1.50 for the programme. The entrance opens out onto the concourse of the impressive main stand. I say main stand but actually it is the only stand! It stretches along most of one side of the stadium with the tea hatch at the far end. The rest of the ground is open to the elements. Once inside the ground, there is no access to the bar until half-time. I try and order drinks from the hatch but the PA system is blasting out the local Smashey and Nicey radio station at ear-splitting levels. We really struggle to hear each other. United were champions of the Hellenic League last season and so now find themselves in the EvoStik League South East Division. Their opponents today, Moneyfields, were also promoted last season and this is the first meeting of the two sides in their histories. Since climbing the Pyramid, the two clubs have had differing fortunes. The visitors find themselves in second place while Thame languish in 18th. This afternoon could prove interesting. From the outset, it is obvious one guy on United’s bench – I think it is their manager – hasn’t read his own club’s ground rules. I quote: ‘Thame support the FA’s Respect programme and any inappropriate or offensive language directed at any match official will not be tolerated’. That seems pretty unequivocal. However, within five minutes, his ridiculous foul-mouthed, completely unwarranted rants at the officials have become a source of great amusement and fine parody to Moneyfields’ bench. Someone needs to tell this guy to amend his behaviour: after all, Thame boast many children’s sides and they are not being set a very good behavioural example at the moment. The ranting man’s behaviour transfers to his players and they are constantly arguing with match officials. This distracts from the business of actually defending and they find themselves 3-1 behind at half-time (it is the ref ’s fault, not their poor play, of course). The home fans also show a similar vocal lack of knowledge of the laws of the game making this an unwelcoming place to visit. The visitors are reduced to ten men after a really bad challenge but expertly keep United at bay to claim another three points. My advice to Thame: concentrate on your football, forget about trying to referee the match and you may just stay up at this higher level!
PRE-MATCH INFO: 8, WELCOME: 4, FACILITIES: 6, FOOD: 5, CHARM: 3, MATCH: 8, FANS: 3, PROGRAMME: 4, OVERALL TRIP: 6, OFFICIALS: 6.5, ATT: 75