Saturday, 13 August 2016

A Journey Through Thame and Space

Hopperational details
Date & Venue
Saturday 13 August 2016 at The ASM Stadium, Meadow View Park
Thame United 4 Highworth Town 2
Hellenic League Premier Division (Step 5)
Ground 589 on the lifetime list.  I am here because I am incompetent.  I set out to go to Kidlington v Farnborough, for pragmatic reasons.  Today I needed to find a fixture that was vaguely between Hertfordshire and Staffordshire.  About 20 minutes away from the ground, out of nowhere came a blinding flash of realisation that I had been to Kidlington before.  This is maladministration on a grand groundhopping scale.  Fortunately, a quick stop-and-internet-search in an A41 layby revealed that I could just about get to Thame instead, and I did so with ten minutes to spare.  Must do better.
An apology
This is why, when the first goal went in midway through the first half, I tweeted "Kidlington 1 Highworth 0".  Panic! Panic!  Especially as the score changed again almost immediately, and I compounded the error by tweeting "Thame United 1 Kidlington 1".  I cannot imagine what confusion I caused on the Hellenic patch for the time it took me to find out how to delete those tweets from my phone.  I mean well and I was a bit tired.  Sorry.  Won't do it again.  At least I spotted the error, unlike the time when I tweeted an 8 instead of a 0 for a score at AFC Kempston Rovers. 
Pre-match preparation
Both sides won their FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round ties but in the opening league fixture, whilst Thame were thrashing Burnham 8-1 at home, Highworth were losing narrowly.
This match in one sentence
Thame United took control of the game with a three-goal burst in the second half.
So what?
Thame United sit at the top of the early league table on goal difference, and Highworth are one of four teams yet to gain a league point.
The drama unfolds
There was nothing much to say about the first 25 minutes except to note that both teams were working hard in the sunshine.  Thame (not Kidlington, oh no) broke the deadlock by breaking down the right.  The ball was squared, a first shot was well blocked but the rebound fell to Tom Ashworth who made no mistake.  1-0 after 26 mins

The equaliser came four nominal minutes later but actually most of that had been treatment time for a Highworth defender.  With their first attack after the restart, Highworth won a penalty and Ashley Edenborough converted before the game continued on an evenly matched basis.  1-1 after 30 mins and at half-time

Thame won the game with a burst of three goals in a twelve-minute spell around the hour mark.  First, a magnificent header by Andy Gledhill from a right-wing cross left the keeper no chance.  Then came the what-if moment as Highworth immediately fashioned a mirror-image chance from their left flank, but the unstoppable header was narrowly wide.  Thame players then queued up to shoot before Gledhill was successful at the third time of asking, and Lynton Goss added a fourth from the left side of the penalty area soon afterwards.  2-1 after 51 mins, 3-1 after 56 mins, 4-1 after 63 mins

The news of an actual West Bromwich Albion goal at Selhurst Park was shortly reverberating around the Twittersphere.  By this point I had moved into the shade at the back of the main stand, in time to watch Fabian McCarthy take his time and pick his spot for a late well-taken but only consolatory goal.  Final score 4-2
Ground Pix

This is a neat and tidy new ground with a very good, comfortable stand along one side.  It is a rare sight in Step 5 and one only has to look at the variation that I have encountered this season (Seaham Red Star, Cradley Town, Nuneaton Griff and here) to see that the national playing field is far from level.  Here in the Hellenic League the pitchside ads are for herbal supplements and hot air balloon insurance and I suspect Thame United will need to get back to Step 4 at least to sustain this facility over time.  I appreciate a well-designed new ground as much as a ramshackle collection of sheds, especially when the toilets are clean and present no hazard to health.  The refreshment bar menu is one of the best I have ever encountered at Step 5.  The whole place suggests that standards matter, and that gets applause from me.  The playing surface is excellent, and the programme is more than adequate.

Match Pix
Thame United are in red-and-black.

Why I was not at Crystal Palace v WBA
I am not a member or season-ticket holder, but the reasons go back several years really.  Most of the first hundred grounds that I visited were to watch West Brom play.  Then they got into the Premiership and suddenly I could not get tickets, and when I could then the outrageous bill for me and a brace of Yapplets left me feeling irresponsible as a parent.  Add the pressure to buy replica shirts on top of programme and refreshment costs, then the realistic necessity of a Sky Sports subscription to really follow the season as fixtures moved around so randomly, then add the anti-role model behaviour of "stars" like Saido Berahino and journeymen professionals with no more connection to and love for West Bromwich than the average mosquito (other bloodsucking parasites are available), add the fact that the chances of West Brom ever winning anything are about zero (though credit to Mowbray's side for getting to a Wembley FA Cup semi-final), and this interminable sentence can finally end leaving the reader with the explanation of how non-league groundhopping became my link with the game of the people.  When I heard that Paul Pogba will be allegedly earning enough in a year to pay for about 200 primary headteachers it made it even less likely that I will ever re-engage with the business end of the game.  Rant over.  Groundhopping is MUCH more fun.
Goalkeeper Top Colour Stats

The Golden Age of Subbuteo never had fluorescent goalkeepers.  Just saying.
There must have been a special offer this season on Radioactive Bile keeper tops as sported by the Highworth goalie (nearest camera).  I've seen three in a fortnight.  To be honest, the home effort is only marginally less garish (at the far end) and is barely allowable as Green.  The full league table appears here from time to time, but Green is doing well, the best of the frequently-seen colours.  While we are on the subject, a special mention must go to Thame United's Number 10, the first Step 5 player that I have seen with different colours for left and right boots.  Not even quantum physics predicted that this would happen.

Pink and Yellow.  Sorry, I don't get it.  Old-school, me.
What Next?
Watch @GrahamYapp on Twitter for details!  Hope that any of my A/AS level students reading this have a pleasant week leading up to a successful outcome on Thursday.  I'm just as nervous as you to be honest!  Meanwhile, not sure whether a midweek hop will happen but I hope to be on the road again next Saturday.

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