The distraction of seeing an open KFC, considering the current great chicken drought of 2018, is a welcome one. I was really late picking up Tom from Waltham Cross station, almost half an hour. He was “cold” and it was “windy” while he waited. Such was his displeasure at my bad time keeping- blame the M25- he greeted me with a curtain moving side to side clenched fist hand gesture that was a little bit rude.
Tom is quite right to be “suspicious” about what is in KFC’s popcorn chicken, considering they have been telling everyone they can't get any of the main ingredient, but are still able to sell this one product, hmm.
Finding the entrance to Theobalds Lane is not a straightforward one, a hard left off a hectic dual carriageway if you happen to be coming at it from the right direction. If like us, you're coming at it from the wrong way, you watch where you want to be go flying by. Meaning you have to drive up the road, turn around, and drive back the way you just came, but now on the right side of the road.
Sheltering from the Cheshunt winter
It certainly seems to be a running theme, maybe it's a money thing, but the non-league car parks we've visited as of late have been treacherous. Dark and foreboding, they take a brave Indiana Jones type like me to conquer and find somewhere to park.
Cheshunt FC’s (CFC) home (which is also the home of the Tottenham Ladies team, you know I love to get in at least one Spurs reference simply to spite Tom) currently only has half the lights on, and there is little to no sign of life. One of the small covered terraces behind one goal is ratting in the wind. On the far side of the pitch there looks to be a disused and almost derelict looking stand. Covered in cones and red tape, with a few of its seats seemingly ripped out, the brutalist, yes my second reference to the modernist architectural movement of the early 20th century in as many weeks, all reinforced concrete and angular, is out of action.
There is some noise, coming from a small building set a fair way back from the pitch, next to a long black wall, with "We Are Cheshunt. One Community. One Club" written across it sandwiched between two of the clubs’ crests. One light is on in what I assume is the changing room, and seeping out from behind the frosted glass is a bit of The Temptations, then some Edwin Star- “War- what is good for?’’. I can just about make out the bespectacled, whisker adorned sight of the ever so slightly walrus/Charles Bronson looking figure of CFC’s manager- a man we last saw in the final days of Billericay Town normalcy, in the last few days before the Tamplin revolution. Standing outside what was then a lion free home changing room, giving off no sign he was about to be overthrown in a non league revolution.
The very, very tall referee and his assistants arrive not long after us. I watch them do their quick walk of the pitch; “all is well” he says to one of the ground staff. I realise towards the end of his inspection that it's not the 3G surface I was sure it was, but grass. Our intended match today had been postponed due to a waterlogged pitch, and having convinced myself the pitch here was artificial, thought I’d found a banker. However, the synthetic surface is part of the greater complex and is not what CFC play on.
A rather cold Hertfordshire night
That would've been embarrassing.
“Glad we ain't got a game next week” explains a dour CFC official. With the wind even stronger here than it had been at the station, and almost nothing on all four sides of the ground to stop it, its almost non stop and biting. He carries on, adding that it’s only going to get colder, Baltic air from “bloody Russia” means it's going to get to “minus temperatures” next week. Such is the near constant breeze, I'm getting a bit of headache as it whips across my sizable forehead. So I plunge in my bag for my olive green hat, putting it on regardless of how daft it makes me look.
Both sets of players heading out for the warm up look desperately unimpressed that they are having to do so. Not that the pitch is any kind of state at all, but wanting to make sure it's in the best possible nick for the match, both teams have been asked to warm up elsewhere, behind the long black wall, through a door no one seems to know is there. With no visible handle, it's like a non-league priest hole.
Tom has vanished, he's not photographing the players, they've all just trapped back from the muddy back and beyond, to do their star jumps on the main pitch and he wasn't behind them complaining about mud on his trainers. When I call him he tells me he is in the clubhouse, a very generic one at that he explains, nothing to distinguish it from being one particular clubs or another. Nothing on the walls, no faded old team photos or tatty memorabilia, there is though a man selling signed Spurs pics at 45 a pop.
It's a Beautiful Game!
There has been a fair old bit of coming and going in recent weeks at CFC. Sitting just one spot off the bottom of the table, the new manager has been seen to quickly rejuvenate the squad. “Only recognise four of the faces” explains one of the stewards, there have been lots of “big changes”. They beat table topping Bowers & Pitsea in their previous game, but the key thing is “can they be consistent?”.
Among the reshuffle, CFC’s have had a bit of coup for a club at this level, according to the same steward they have signed a “Champions League winner” an “ex Mali international” who won the much coveted European prize with “Real Madrid”. I don't think he's pulling my leg, I might be wrong, perhaps the fella fancies having a joke at my expense, but I probe a little further.
Annoyingly he can't remember the player in questions name. I’m desperate to know but he tells me “he's not even seen his name on the back of a shirt” yet the decorated new arrival has already “played one game” then “shot his knees poor lad” so I don't think we’ll be seeing him tonight.
With CFC’s visitors Waltham Abbey FC (WA) being from a mere three miles up the road, tonight is
one of those occasions. WA are hovering around mid table, but league position and who you beat in your last match count for little when local pride is at stake.
“They will battle” explains the steward, it's a “derby” after all. I’m not wholly convinced by his laughter that follows. It's more nervous than confident.
It’s not so much a walk out onto the pitch for the players, who appear from two separate doors, one at each end of the compact changing rooms. There is no tunnel, it's more of a general space to mingle, the black tarmac making it look like a car park without the markings, more than anything else. In the dimly lit area the teams both form makeshift lines, before being led out by the referee.
A single CFC fan sings “amber army, amber army” louder than the whisper quiet PA. Someone has
turned him up a little when it comes to explaining the relevance of the pitch side presentation. Two CFC players have recently notched up one hundred appearances for the club, and are being given a keepsake by the all time record appearance holder. Following a quick handshake and a picture, they are soon jogging back to their half to start.
“Enjoy the game” says the voice over the PA, who is now at his loudest, this time he is not being muffled by the few fans making some noise as the match gets underway, “come on Cheshunt”.
The most sensible of people here are out of the wind and in the comfort of the main stand on the halfway line, there are a few people dotted about pitch side, but it's those in the stand, who get the best view, well better than us, it's right down the opposite end of the pitch, of the opening CFC goal on five minutes.
CFC are rampant, “robbed him” says Tom, when a home player hustles the WA player off the ball, dispossessing him, and initiating the attack. His shot unfortunately is straight at the keeper, but it shows CFC's intent, they are taking no prisoners.
See how many prisoners they end up taking by reading the rest of this piece- it's rather long- here- and then watch the video blog here.