I love it when a good plan comes together. An indefinite hiatus from watching Boston United was looming as the days ticked down to my turn to enter the real world of soul-crushing work, the grinding daily commute, council tax payments, giving back the student loan and most likely many a crimson-faced, bawling news editor. Bishop’s Stortford away, my 13th Boston match of the season, offered a last supper tasting the good life, the student life.
Conscience pricked by a presumably hungry missus, Mr. Broughton had been weighing up whether to spend two weeks‘ food money on a sprint down the M11 for this one. By all accounts, he had not been sleeping - tossing and turning between the sheets wondering whether it was morally right to force his darling girlfriend to subsist on Pot Noodles from now until late October, while he floated off to a date with his other passion on the Essex-Hertfordshire border.
Obviously sense prevailed and by 10am the Wondercorsa, remarkably clear of the general debris of his life so that the back seat fabric was actually visible, was fuelled, pumping out Beady Eye and pointed irrevocably southwards. The early start - I’d barely digested my meagre breakfast, so worried was I that JB would be uncharacteristically punctual - was necessitated not by some omnipotent broadcaster but by the humble organisers of the annual Non-League Day. For a few dozen pounds, non-league enthusiasts and perhaps a few converts from local Premier and Football League, could sample a match from all three of the leading non-leagues: our fixture in the Conference North, Chelmsford City against Dover in the Conference South and Braintree Town against Lincoln City in the Conference Premier. A fine Essex triangle.
Kick-off times had been tweaked accordingly, allowing those who had signed up for the trio of matches to get between them in good time while being entertained by dollies in Blue Square Bet jackets, to the general annoyance and inconvenience of regular fans, the teams and everyone else. What better way to celebrate the non-league than by attending three fixtures, none of which kicked off at the traditional 3pm time, while being bused about by a massive betting firm?
Unsurprisingly, Stortford aren’t especially pleased about being switched from the Conference South to the North, but for those that do brave the horrendous mileage, Woodside Park is a very pleasant venue. To be fair though, it is essentially an extention of the Stansted Airport car park without the Pink Elephant shuttle buses. The airport sits on the opposite side of the junction and a reassuringly regular stream of Easyjet and Ryanair planes passed overhead, no doubt en route to exotic destinations such as Inverness, Ljubljana and Pristina International, Kosovo. If you happened to be both a groundhopper and a planespotter, then you could be forgiven for being VERY excited indeed.
Sensibly, Gaffer Lee kept with the best parts of the last two matches. Alan White and Tom Ward look like a match made in heaven at centre-back, like a master and his apprentice, while Danny Sleath continued his comeback in midfield. Mickey Stones, who despite early detractors is improving with every appearance, was paired with Marc Newsham up front.
Despite the early start, about 150 Boston fans had travelled and created an atmosphere which started with the usual boisterousness, then gradually deteriorated into silence, indignation, frustration and general swearing. Until the last few seconds, anyway. The home fans were predominantly polite, refined cockney types who feel a bit uncomfortable shouting or singing. One had brought an air horn, which must have been considered daring though it failed miserably in disrupting Paul Bastock’s goal kick concentration.
Bishops entered the game off the back of a 5-0 trouncing of Hinckley, but seemed happy to play out a bore draw. Goalkeeper Nicky Eyre was time-wasting as early as the 20th minute, drawing the ire of the away fans by being a little too particular about placing his kicks. He would eventually get his comeuppance in the most devastating way.
Both sides missed sitters in the first-half. Junior Dadson (this is a good name, for all Dad’s sons are junior) was found in acres of space barely 10 yards out, only to see his effort swotted away by the undimmed cat-like reflexes of Bazza. Shortly before the break, Ryan Semple scorched through on goal only to drag a shot across the face with only the goalkeeper to beat.
The second period was just frustrating, as the match looked for all the world like it would fizzle out into a second successive nil-all draw. Eyre, clearly educated in all the goalkeeping dark arts by manager Ian Walker, continued to squander seconds. He could have positioned the ball, ironed his shorts, waited for the kettle to boil and booked some budget flights in the time it took to boom a kick forward. To add to the futility of the situation, most sailed hopelessly out of play, leading one Boston fan to mimic an air stewardess and point out that the touchlines were located there, there and there....
Phil Anderson was dismissed for lashing out at Semple on the floor with 20 minutes left - it was part-Karma Sutra act and part Greco-Roman wrestling - and suddenly the game was United’s for the taking. Thankfully, the official had been taking note of all the lost time and with six minutes of stoppage time played, another magical moment arrived. Ben Milnes lofted a free-kick into the mixer and, via the touches of Stones and White, Newsham, poacher-like, turned and swept the ball into the net beyond Eyre’s desperate reach. The Bishop had been bashed.
The players celebrated with an enormous pile-on near the corner flag as the fans jumped around and embraced in pure delirium, before bursting into spontaneous song. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw JB tumble over the barrier, retain his balance and then swing from the stanchion. Others followed. Unable to resist, I hurdled the barrier but, realising the players were good 20 yards away, satisfied myself with a few joyous jigs on the immaculate green stuff behind the goal. Thank you boys, that was quite a farewell.
Next Match: Intending to take in a few games during my fortnight’s induction in London, starting with a very attractive-looking international between Brazil and Ghana at Craven Cottage on Monday night. I’ll try and keep the blog up-to-date during these two weeks. Next Boston game is likely to be in the FA Cup second qualifying should we get an away tie or the match at Altrincham on October 8th.