When Heybridge Swifts entertained Bowers & Pitsea on New Year's Day 2018, they were playing just their fifteenth league game of the season. It left them with as many as thirteen games in hand over some of their Bostik League North rivals, and the prospect of thirty-one league games in just over one hundred days, a minimum of two a week till the end of the season, or more if there are further postponements, which seems highly probably.
It is the sort of situation that would outrage Premier League managers, for some of whom the prospect of two games in a week seems too much for their players to contend with sometimes. No doubt Swifts would prefer not to be facing a regime of Saturday-Tuesday-Thursday games in the final weeks of the season, which is a distinct possibility if the weather adds to their existing fixture back-log, but no doubt they are pragmatic enough to recognise that it is the price they have to pay for their extended runs in the FA Cup and FA Trophy this season. And apart from the financial rewards that Heybridge's cup exploits have earned them, they have gained something almost as precious, if slightly less tangible, and that is memories.
If there is one thing that fans love to do, it is reminisce about the good times - and the bad times - they have had following their team, which given that there are more teams who end each season without a league title or cup final win to their name than those who actually win anything, is probably just as well. As a Romford supporter, I've not seen my team win anything since the Essex Senior League title success that got Boro promoted to the Bostik League in 2009 and, realistically, the chances of us winning anything major anytime soon are slim, so I and my fellow Boro supporters console ourselves with the happy - and sometimes even the not so happy - memories we have of following our team up and down Bostik League North.
Funnily enough, most of those memories have been garnered on away trips, and I think there is good reason for that. In my early days of following Romford - I saw my first game in 1968, when the 'old' club were reigning Southern League champions - away wins were thin on the ground, and there was many a solemn coach journey home after a good hiding at places like Kettering or Dover, so a win - or let's be honest, even a draw - on the road was to be savoured.
Back in 2011, when Romford visited Waltham Abbey, no one in the modest crowd of 85 was prepared for what turned out to be one of the highest scoring Boro games I have seen. Eighteen minutes into the game and Romford led 3-0 thanks to goals from Wale Odedoyin, Abs Seymour, and Nick Reynolds. Jack Barry made it four after twenty-eight minutes, at which point the supporters of any other club in that position would consider the game as good as won, not a luxury Romford supporters ever afford themselves as we always feel we need another goal. And so it proved as Waltham Abbey reduced the deficit with two goals of their own before the interval, but Boro got that extra goal after seventy-one minutes (Barry again), and held a 5-2 lead with just eight minutes remaining. Time to relax, with the game won, surely? Not so. Abbey pulled one back, and then another to trail by just a single goal with four minutes plus added time left. Boro hung on, although many felt that given another five minutes, Abbey might have won. The circumstances of that night at Capershotts get trotted out every time Boro hold a lead that any of the supporters claim is unassailable: we always need another goal!
Romford's trip to Bury Town last season is another game that will live long in the memory of the Boro supporters who were there. Beaten 5-0 at Bowers & Pitsea on their last away outing and sitting third from bottom in the table, Boro were in need of a result against a Bury Town side who would have gone top of the table if they won.
For Romford fans, with the previous Tuesday's mauling fresh in the memory and knowing that Bury had beaten the same side 3-0 on the Saturday, there was some apprehension...which was extinguished almost immediately as Boro set about their opponents in a manner that suggested that on this occasion, they were not going to be pushovers. After a goal-less first 45 minutes, most of which was played in the home team's half, a goal seven minutes after the break for the home side briefly threatened to sour the mood, but Chinedu McKenzie's equaliser after 58 minutes and Will Green's winner after 71 minutes were thoroughly deserved and rightly greeted with exuberant celebrations, as was the final whistle. Even the two and half hour journey back to Romford as a result of the M11 being closed, meaning getting back home at gone one o'clock on Wednesday morning, was less of a nuisance than it would have been if we had lost.
This season we already have an away trip that will be talked about for years to come. One Tuesday in October, when Romford made the 115 mile trip to play Norwich United, injuries and work commitments meant that only twelve players were able to travel, and the presence of manager Paul Martin and coach Mark Lord on the sub's bench were necessary, and with Ben Clarke, meant that the combined ages of Romford's three substitutes was 117 years. With Norwich bottom and Romford just one place above them, it was a game that neither side could afford to lose, and almost inevitably, Romford fell behind early on. And equally predictably, it came from a penalty. For some reason, it seems that as soon as we set foot in Norfolk, we concede a spot kick. With three minutes remaining Boro still trailed 1-0 and with just a long and depressing coach ride home to look forward to, manager Paul Martin entered the fray for his First Team debut, ten years after taking the reins as manager. His contribution might have been limited to taking one free-kick and conceding another, but - as he is fond of reminding us - it was his call to Nick Reynolds that prompted the striker to shoot from range; the home keeper spilled the shot and James Ishmail followed up to finish from close range. Cue pandemonium on the pitch, the bench and the terraces as Boro celebrated a vital point. Another long trip back to Romford, another arrival home in the wee small hours, but we had gained a point, and plenty of memories. (The headline image shows the side leaving the field after that match, Paul Martin on the right).
A few seasons ago, when the post-Ferguson version of Manchester United were cheering up the rest of the Premier League by being consistently inept, any TV coverage from Old Trafford would feature panning shots of the crowd showing dejected and stunned United fans unable to work out where it had suddenly gone so wrong. The constant diet of success that supporters of some top clubs have come to look upon as their right is not something that the majority of football fans either experience, nor can they expect, and that makes some victories and the memories they create all the sweeter for it.
The Premier League seems to be fixated on making money, but for me, football is about making memories as much as anything else, and following Romford in the Bostik League has made me rich in those indeed. Did I ever tell you about the trip to Wroxham when it snowed?...
Mike Woods has been supporting Romford since 1968, is a regular contributor to the club's programme, and the author of a blog, Rules, Fools and Wise Men which he describes as "Random Jottings on football, life, work and whatever takes my fancy."