The good people at the Met Office flagged up that it was not going to be a great night for football but, what the heck, non league fans are nothing if not hardy, and Lewes v Tonbridge Angels offered a tasty top of the table-ish clash. The joys of modern technology provided weather websites, live storm watch, and Twitter updates from the ground itself, so what could possibly go wrong?
Weather watch suggested that a deluge blowing up the English Channel would hit just in time for a bright referee to send everyone off to the pub warm and happy before kick off, but as the clock ticked past 6pm the game was on, so it was time to fire up the motor, drag Junior out of the pub (in fairness, from work), and to head for Lewes. Because of the time and the weather, the heavy traffic meant that the sat nav used the “alternative route” through the Ashdown Forest. By day this piece of high ground on the South Downs is the picturesque home to Winnie the Pooh. On a wet, dismal February night in low cloud it resembled a landscape from An American Werewolf in London, and it was a pleasure to see the floodlights of the football ground glowing in the distance, after a distinctly unpleasant drive.
The teams were announced, with Tonbridge calling up two academy players for the missing Parkinson and Stone, and Henly playing in goal with a heavy cold. At 7.30 the ref and his assistants trotted out to warm up on what looked like the only bit of solid ground, between various ponds, rivulets and wetland habitats. Clearly this was going ahead, as the rain continued to cascade down. Tonbridge dominated the first 15 minutes, playing the only way which was practical – direct, long, and running with the ball on the occasional ridge of grass that stuck out of the swamp. Close control and short passing were not realistic, and the back pass was suicidal.
Joe Turner looked particularly sharp on the left, and Ramadan and Folkes linked well on the right. Angels old boy Lewis Carey in the Lewes goal was tested with a couple of shots which he duly spilled, as trying to catch the ball was like mud wrestling an eel. He also turned one fierce shot over the bar. As time went on Lewes found their sea legs, and came into game, especially down the right, and on 31 minutes another Tonbridge old boy Luke Blewden appeared to turn in a cross to open the scoring, but he had done so with his hand.
Tonbridge eased back into control of the game, and looked the better side as the rain pelted on down. The ball stuck in puddles, players splashed around like the opening credits of Baywatch, and in the goalmouth Carey squelched about like a child in a paddling pool he’d filled with mud while his Mum’s back was turned. It was getting hard to take seriously. Was the Linesman flagging for offside, or signalling for a lifeguard? Who knows.
Eventually after about 40 minutes the two management teams joined forces to get the game called off, before someone was hurt by a mistimed challenge or contracting trench foot. I doubt any of the 250 attendees were surprised. In fact, the only surprise was that the game had started at all. So after a fine, hot pie, and a longing look at the excellent array of cask ales on the bar, it was off to the car and the drive back past the Slaughtered Lamb, to the warmth and welcome of home.
All in all a predictable outcome, but at least we gave it a go, and with ticket stub safely tucked away it’s a freebie for the rearranged match, diaries permitting. Walk off music – Warren Zevon, take it away……