Lost at sea against Weymouth

Oh dear. Oh dear. Oh dear. The rotten start to Chesham United’s season continues; in fact it continues to get worse. It is far too early to call it a crisis, but it really is not looking good. It was a big ask to think we might turn things around against Weymouth, but even the pessimists amongst us didn’t expect a 0-5 hammering, did we? If my stats are right, I think we now share the honour with West Ham and Lancaster City as being the only sides in the top ELEVEN divisions of English football to not have a point yet this season.

These are challenging times for Chesham United, the Board must be pulling their hair out and just hoping that something will go right at some point, some reward for their efforts…but there was no sign of any on Saturday.

In terms of the football, we started reasonably well again, created some good half chances and for 15 minutes there was no reason to think that the opposition were any better than us. In fact the only worry was that I thought the same after 15 minutes against Merthyr. And Met Police. And Staines. Sure enough, as the game went on, Weymouth started to threaten and weaknesses in the defence started to show.

Just before half-time came the killer blow, a penalty to Weymouth that looked extremely harsh from where I was standing, but in fairness, many of the home fans that were closer to the incident seemed to think it was a justified penalty. It was scored, and we went in at the break 0-1 down.

At Staines it was noticeable how they seemed to benefit from the half-time team talk more than we did, and it was the same against Weymouth. Capitulation is not too strong a word to use. It was really tough viewing because we have some players that look good footballers, but as a team we looked so dis-organised, dis-jointed and clueless that I half expected to look over to the dug out and see the manager standing there with an umbrella.

There was some good finishing from Weymouth, and there was some worrying defending by Chesham. Worrying because it was not silly, individual, errors; worrying because positionally we were all over the shop and being split apart by the simplest of passes through the middle. 0-5 was a fair reflection in the end, I was in the car by the time the fifth hit the back of the net, watching through the window as my son and I passed the gates beating the crowds and not getting caught behind pedestrians walking down the drive way.

Before the game the bar was noticeably void of home fans, outnumbered by the visiting supporters in claret & blue, at least making us feel slightly at home. Conversations still contained a huge amount of despondency – The Berks & Bucks Cup non-entry still annoyed many, the reasoning not convincing all. And then the added insult, another own goal, being the fact that the season tickets that are being used by many supporters and sent out to participants of the Corporate Patron Scheme all contain a photograph from the previous season – You can guess what the picture is can’t you? Yep, Chesham United winning the Berks & Bucks Senior Cup last season – Presumably chosen because it was a highlight from last season, and a moment of great pride? Grab the revolver, point it at your foot, fire.

Again, conscious that I don’t want to come across as always looking for something to moan about, but one of the things that I really did like about this season was the decision to play in white shorts and white socks with the claret & blue shirts this season. It looks smart, it’s more the traditional style and mirrors what the team wore in the famous Wembley year of 1968. I like it. I like it a lot.

So I’m standing in the bar, having a chat, watching the warm-up when my son, Ben, points out that we look to be warming up in claret socks and shorts.  “Where have the white ones gone? Is it because Weymouth are playing in all white?” Sure enough, Weymouth were wearing an all white kit, but as the away team, shouldn’t they be the ones mix and matching if there is any part of the kit that clashes?

Now I don’t know the ins and out, and don’t like to speculate, but it seems that the league handbook (the bible!) has us down as having claret socks and shorts for our home kit, and therefore that is what we should be wearing. It seems that the decision to go for white socks and shorts was not taken in conjunction with telling the league what kit we will be playing in…It sounds such a silly thing, but such are the rules, pedantic as the league are, this could get messy going forward and who knows what kit we will be playing in going forward. Honestly, it is like Sunday morning football…which is a coincidence, because on the pitch…No, no, no, Alan, that is too harsh! Revolver. Foot. Fire.

I’m sure the reason for the mis-communication goes back to the crux of the problem that I’m sure everyone is getting bored of hearing me go on about – There are too few people left that are prepared to put themselves out, leaving too few doing too much, and as a result things will be missed and be far from perfect. A focus on getting people willing to help out again must be key to going forward, and a starting point for that, I would have thought, would be to find out, and understand, why there are fewer and fewer helpers nowadays.

Another example from the game against Weymouth was the tannoy announcements. Before the game there were none…because there was nobody to do it. It’s a job that not everyone would fancy doing, but it is so sad that we cannot find a small rota of people prepared to step in and take a turn if needed. I knew in the middle of the week that there was a potential issue with this role as my Dad had been asked if he would step in as a “one-off”. However, fair play to Dad, he pointed out that for over a season now he has been saying that he did not want to do it anymore having done far too many “one-offs”, “one more times”, “Just as a favour this times” and “this is the last times.”

The silence however was broken at the half-time whistle when one of the directors picked up the mic, belatedly welcomed everyone, ran through the teams and actually did quite a brilliant job of being matchday announcer – Were he not already doing so much more stuff, he would have been the ideal candidate! More helpers and volunteers are needed, but how do you get them?

I’m very conscious that I am on the sidelines and could well be asked, “well why don’t you do it?” I have in fact said that there are areas that I am more than happy to help out on, offer support and do bits to help the club, and in fact I do; but my days as a main driver and leader are behind me…for several reasons.

I have given countless hours to the club as a child, supporter, director and Chairman; anything from selling programmes and being ball boy to quite literally hosting  meetings to save the future of the club – A huge weight of responsibility that I carried with a combination of pride and trepidation. Thankfully, for the time being at least, we are fortunate enough to have the day to day safety net of a director or two capable of bailing us out in the event of any cashflow problems (I still say we are too well run currently to risk being faced with a huge financial deficit or unexpected tax bill), how that pans out as a long term plan with minimal volunteers and poor performances on the field, is anyones guess. And that is what should inspire, and drive supporters to want to make the club attractive to investors, to help secure the club…It baffles me how we seem to be getting that bit so wrong. But I’ve talked enough about that in recent posts and feel that my help, ideas, direction and big heart were rejected in favour of the opinions of those that had a big wallet. It’s a choice, I understand that, but thats why I’m not at the front of the volunteers queue, and maybe it is right that someone else has a turn.

The other reason is the reality that all these blogs, passion and ramblings are more than likely going to fade away over the coming weeks as attention turns once again to the sport of rugby and the quality, memory-making, time I spend with my son watching Saracens, and watching him play on a Sunday as he moves into the Under 15’s with Camelot (Hemel Hempstead). This is where I now get that real buzz of excitement, living and breathing the action as it happens, really caring about results.

Aside from Saracens and some memorable trips to the likes of Dublin, the enjoyment of watching Ben play now that they are into the full contact game is every bit as enjoyable as watching a professional game. Last year was the most remarkable of seasons as his Camelot side went unbeaten, achieving what would have seemed impossible at the start of the year, being crowned County Champions.

I don’t know if you have seen on the Chesham United Youth website, there is an article by televisions Alex Horne on life as a parent of a child playing football and how, like many of us, he rates the win at Bristol Rovers as a most amazing memory, but the best game he saw that season involved his son playing for Chesham Under 8’s. I get that. I really do get that, because it comes with a pride and emotion that is difficult to explain, other than pure parental instinct to want them to do well.

My greatest sporting moment last year, in fact probably ever, was the Herts County Cup Under 15’s final at Old Albanians. The opponents, OAs, were outstanding favourites having dominated rugby in the county for as long as anyone can remember. Camelot had had a very good season, developing with each game and building a Forwards line, that includes my Ben as a Prop, that had become every bit as important as the Backs that had been the prominent players throughout the younger age groups.

After an outstanding semi-final win at Bishops Stortford, Camelot went to OAs confident, daring to dream. It was like Wimbledon v Liverpool in the 1988 FA Cup Final. The parents were more nervous, and more sceptical than the kids. As the clock ticked into overtime at the end of the match, the scores were level at 7-7. It was incredibly tight. Camelot had one final attack. A great move, some superb play in midfield, a couple of great rucks and suddenly the ball springs out to Ben on the wing. As a Prop, Ben should not be anywhere near the wing! Props rarely score tries. Once he gathered the pass he only had a couple of yards to calmly ground the ball. Which he did, sparking the most unbelievable celebration from parents and players alike.

That alone was an incredible enough story. Enough to get the tears pouring down the cheeks. But more emotional than that, only two days earlier my mum had passed away. It was not unexpected and I will forever be pleased that both my brother, Dad and I were there holding her hand as she slipped off into her permanent sleep. It was peaceful, emotional, and tough. Very  tough.

In the two days that followed I obviously spent a lot of time with my Dad and brother and had not really discussed with Ben the passing of his Nan, to whom he was very close. I knew he was upset, but I don’t think he knew what to say to me, or how to talk about it…and neither did I.

As the final whistle blew for the County Cup final, Ben’s winning try being the last bit of action, emotions erupted all over the place in a messy explosion. I was losing the battle to hold back the tears, a complete mixture of emotions…and then Ben comes running over, his face a mess of sweat and tears, gives me the biggest of hugs across the pitch perimeter,  and sobs: “That was for Nanny.”  I don’t mind sharing, sport does not get any more emotional than that.

A bit of a tangent, other than a further explanation as to why my loyalty to Chesham United will be stretched when the rugby season starts next week, and my non-attendance at games won’t be because of the football on offfer,  though I’m sure there will be those that do start missing games for that reason unless things pick up.

Tomorrow, Bank Holiday Monday, is surely a “must win” match for the manager, a fifth straight defeat against, with the greatest of respect, one of the favourites for relegation this year, would be a really tough one to take if we lost that.

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