Thursday, 4 March 2010

Ee-ai-ee-ai-ee-ai-oh, Up the Conference South We Go! Part 2

You can read Part 1 of this article here.

By the time all of the Bath City fans had resettled themselves behind the High Street Goal the match had already been underway for a couple minutes. There wasn't room for our gigantic white ensign, but the rest of the flags were hung as visibly as possible and we got down to the serious business of cheering the team on. We began with 'We are the Bath,' and 'We Love You City.' There was no response from the Welling supporters. It looked like we had the ground to ourselves, at least as far as noisemaking goes.

Things were not so one-sided on the pitch. Neither team looked very dangerous in the first twenty minutes. As it often the case, City's strong midfield was able to hold the oppostion at bay, but this was not resulting in many goal-scoring opportunities. I find in these sorts of matches I get kind of comfortable, but it is the sort of comfortable that makes me very uneasy when I realise I'm getting comfortable (I suspect if you are a football fan that makes sense. If you are not a football fan you probably think I need therapy. And you are probably right).

There was one worrying thing for City fans in the opening stages, though, and that was Mark Badman. It took several of us, including me, several minutes to realise the player getting onto the ref's naughty list was Mark Badman. His newly-shaven head made him very hard to recognize. I heard more than one supporter say, 'Who's the new guy?' But it wasn't a questionable choice in grooming that concerned me (I am no one to cast stones), but rather the attention he was getting from the official. He got an early yellow, and a few minutes later, in the presence of captain Jim Rollo, he appeared to get a 'final warning.' It would have been a disaster if he got sent off, so he was going to have to play cautiously for as long as he remained on the pitch. The concerning thing, and one of the reasons he is so popular with the fans, is that it is almost impossible to imagine Badman playing cautiously. Fortunately he did managed to go the rest of the match without another card (much to the frustration of the handful of vocal Welling supporters).

Despite our worries about Badman, City's attack became more and more threatening as the half progressed. Welling keeper Charlie Mitten was given several opportunities to show his skills. He was forced to block shots from both Darren Edwards and Kaid Mohamed. An objective observer would have probably surmised that City was on the verge of taking the lead, but I am no objective observer. I found Mitten's stops extremely frustrating. I could only see squandered chances and half chances, which City might not get again. I suppose it is hard to see the full picture when you are cheering yourself hoarse on the goal line.

As it turns out, cheering myself hoarse on the goal line made it hard to even see the picture right in front of me. Adie Harris found Mohamed wide on the right. I was standing on the fence between Mohamed and the net. Seeing that his angle was too tight to take a shot, I turned away from Mohamed to my right towards the goal, expecting to see a cross come into the six-yard box. Then, in my peripheral vision, I saw the ball come from my left, skirt along the ground, and go just far enough to the left to avoid Mitten's outstretched hands (but not so far left as to go wide of the post). I didn't understand what had happened at first, but eventually I realised that the angle was not too tight for Kaid Mohamed. It was a superb goal, and once I finished scratching my head I joined in the riotous goal celebration that was happening along the fence.

Halftime arrived and found the hundred or so Bath City supporters in fine mood. No one thought a single goal lead was sufficient, but it had been encouraging to see how well Welling United's attack had been contained. Needing to prepare for the second half, the Legion packed up and headed back to the 'far goal' side.

Halfway around the pitch, as we walked in front of the Erith stand, I was struck by a very strange sensation. The oddness of Park View Road felt even odder, but I was struggling to identify it. Then I realised what the problem was: total silence. There was no music coming of the sound system, no hustle-and-bustle-of crowds, no banter among groups of supporters. The smattering of Welling supporters seated in the Erith stand were sat quietly with their hands folded in their laps. Any noise the City supporters made was met with total silence. I would not have been totally surprised if a librarian had marched up to us, put a finger on her lips, and said, 'Shhhhhh!'

The major challenge that the Legion faced during the interval was how to hang our white ensign. It was too large to drape from the fence that skirted the pitch. The corrugated fence behind us did not offer anything to loop the ties through. Or so we thought, until one ingenious legionairre climbed up on top of it and somehow managed to fasten the flag in place. This took several minutes, and I wondered if any Welling club officials would come and try and stop us. To their credit they left us alone, although it may have just been due to a reluctance to disrupt the dreamy silence of the halftime interval.

The second half began, and much to our delight, City began where they had left off: threatening the Welling goal. Much more apparent to me this half was how valuable Adam Connolly was to City's efforts. He has a blistering shot from twenty yards or so (as Weymouth had learned the previous week), but he must be a very frustrating player to defend against even when he isn't shooting. He manages to completely control the top of the penalty box by, as far as I can tell, being everywhere at once. Or so it seems to me, anyway. He nearly had more dead-ball success as well, when two of his kicks reached the normally-lethal forehead of Chris Holland.

At about an hour into the match Welling finally began to rouse themselves back into a half-decent attack. They did in fact manage to hit the crossbar on a couple of occasions. I began to get worried because City appeared to be sitting very deep. Although before the match every City fan I spoke to said they would be happy with a draw, after an hour of watching City run Welling ragged we all felt differently. We would now all be crushed if City came away with less than three points. Crushed, I say, but not surprised. Football is notoriously unpredictable. The only predicable thing is that you will regularly get your heart broken.

Except not this time! Rather than just sit back and try to soak up the pressure for the last half hour, City still kept attacking when given the opportunity. For a split second it looked like City had succeeded with an attack: Adam Connolly's free kick bounced around for a bit before landing right in front of Darren Edwards a yard from the goal line. Under pressure, Edwards headed it forcefully, but it struck the post. This was only feet away from where we stood behind the goal. I don't think any of the City fans felt the disappointment any less than Edwards did.

Speaking of the City fans, the second half of the match was an important performance for us as well. Although we had been vocal throughout the first half, we sang almost without a pausing after the interval. Unlike most behind-the-goal terraces, the 'far end' goal at Park View Road is raised above the pitch. Standing all together in a group, shouting almost from on top of the Welling keeper, it felt like we were calling the City players forward into the goal. And I am sure with our flags waving and our non-stop chanting we probably annoyed the heck out of the somulent Welling supporters. Oh well.

In the closing minutes of the match Adie Britton made two substitutions. On came the newly signed Hector 'Yellow Shoes' Mackie, and the new loanee Dave Gilroy. Last season when Gilroy was a signed City player he was sometimes accused of complacency. Whether that was fair or not, you could not say that about him now. He strides around the pitch now like he is going to pop if he doesn't score a goal. In the closing moments of the match he earned a good reason not to pop for a while.

Welling won a corner and keeper Charlie Mitten decided to give up defending for a moment and have a go at scoring. Thankfully it came to nothing, but gave him a lot of acreage to cover when City cleared the ball. The ball was collected by a Welling defender, but Gilroy managed to pry it loose and pass the ball forward to Mackie.

Mackie now had the ball just over the halfway line, with only a quickly retreating keeper between him and the goal. It is one of those moments when you know your team should score, but as this is non-league football, you know it is far from guaranteed. Besides, Mitten had shown throughout the match that he is a cool-headed keeper who would not panic. And as Mackie was a new signing, no one really knew if he was a quality finisher or not. He wasn't billed as a striker, so it didn't seem like a sure thing. I thought to myself, as Mackie advance towards us, that at least this would take some time off the clock.

From just inside the penalty box Mackie executed a superb, unselfish cross past the flailing Mitten to Gilroy. Where had Gilroy come from? I had been too intent watching Mackie to notice him. He slotted the ball into the goal and made the whole thing look easy.

Forty-five minutes of cheering in hope consumated into thirty seconds of wild screaming in celebration. For the first time we broke into our new song:
Up the Conference South we go!
When we get promoted,
This is what we'll sing,
We are City! We are City!
Britton is our king!
Sure, it's a variation of a song league supporters sing all the time, but for us, working out the lyrics of a song in advance and then singing it all together at the right time was a real accomplishment. The Legion are getting more and more organised.

The match ended moments later. We stayed in place until we had sung our new song several more times, and until we had had a chance to show our appreciation to the team. As it turned out, they came out onto the field to show their appreciation to us. Led by Adie Britton they all came out onto the pitch and clapped us until they reached the edge of the penalty box (and then they wisely stopped - we were all in a bit of a frenzy!).

Welling, who had been on an eight match unbeaten run beforehand, had been made to look ordinary. City's victory would surely, for the first time, lift the team into the playoff spots (third place as it turned out). It was also City's first victory at Park View Road since promotion to the Blue Square South two seasons previously. There were so many things to be excited about, it was hard to realise that we had to go home now.

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