Emma Corlett ventured into unknown territory on Saturday as it was Non-league Day. This is her report.
Non league day. We hardly ever get the chance to watch football together as a family. I have a season ticket at Portman Road and my partner has a season ticket at Carrow Road. Non league day provided the ideal opportunity to take our eight-year-old daughter to a game, without any underhand or subtle attempts to sway her one way or the other.
She’s an eight-year-old who hates mushrooms, so the lure of a free punnet of the things for everyone attending Bungay Town was never going to do it for her. Lowestoft was tempting, but at the last minute we realised Norwich United were playing Ipswich Wanderers at 3pm. Perfect. Or it would have been if I hadn’t left it until the last minute, and relied upon “the internet,” according to which Norwich United play at Plantation Park in Blofield. So off we headed to Blofield – it’s a small village so how hard could it be to find?
Very, it turns out. We still have no idea where Plantation Park is. But we saw a pitch with a match taking place, so went for that. It was free to get in. One team in yellow, one team in green *sighs*. Blofield United Reserves (green) versus Freethorpe (yellow). The match had kicked off at 2.30pm, and a quick count of both teams revealed that we’d missed a bit of action as Freethorpe had already had a player sent off.
The kiosk selling tea and sausage rolls was better staffed than match day at PR. Tea, made in a pot was served with fresh milk in a proper mug for 50p. Sausage rolls that looked like they had proper meat in them rather than the scrapings off an abattoir floor on offer at most football league grounds were £1. Oh, and you can drink within sight of the pitch from a patio outside the bar (selling cheap local real ale).
The half-time whistle blew just as we made it to the touchline, and we were informed that Blofield were winning 1-0. Who needs half time entertainment when there are two children’s play areas to chose between?
So on to the second half. The Freethorpe goal keeper was a bit gobby, and his inspiring words of encouragement included “pick ‘em up early,” “get some chat going, we’re too quiet,” and “these lads are dog shit, let’s lift it”. His motivational yelping paid off, and Freethorpe equalised on (about) 75 minutes with a brilliantly curled free kick from about 25 yards that dipped under the bar.
Apparently a rule change has this season allowed for rolling subs, so there was a fair bit of coming and going that was tricky to keep track of. This also applied to who was running the line for Blofield. A replacement lino approached the task in the slacker style. When asked why he didn’t raise his flag to signify a throw in, he shouted back: “It was such an obvious decision I didn’t think I needed to bother”. This prompted the ref to come over and check that he actually knew what he was doing.
A bold double substitution by the Blofield manager, resplendent in his proper manager’s coat, complete with initials, on around 80 minutes, paid off quickly, and Blofield scored what turned out to be the winner with a 12-yard skilful turn and low shot from their number 9 striker.
It all looked like a bit of a slog for most, and players heading the ball out of defence made grunting sounds more usually heard from the tennis stars at Wimbledon. The pass completion rate was low, I suspect no more than 12%. Some clearly took it more seriously than others, and I wouldn’t have wanted to get in the way of the Freethorpe captain as he stormed off at the end, shirt in hand.
The attendance (as counted by me) was 72, plus 17 children and 1 dog. There was the customary ball stuck in tree incident, which was solved by kicking another football at the stuck ball, resulting of course in two balls stuck up tree. [Ed. The highlights of this incident can be watched here.]
I hear that the ‘respect’ agenda is heavily promoted at grass roots level football. It wasn’t much in evidence today. It would be quicker to list the players who didn’t call the referee a c*nt than those who did. No one was booked for dissent, despite the steady flow of criticism directed at the referee throughout “ref watch the f*cking ball, you twat,” “ref, you’ve ruined this game, you better f*cking apologise to our players”. Maybe he’d made a heinous decision for the first half sending off we’d missed, but he had a fairly uncontroversial game from my perspective.
It was fun though, the sun was shining and for me there is just something great about watching people running around playing football whatever the level. For each wayward, out for a throw in pass, there was a little snippet of skill from someone. And the eight-year-old got to watch the game from the top of a climbing frame.