Friday, 12 March 2010

The Thugs with Laundry Issues Go Down

Bath City defeated Thurrock 1-0 at Twerton Park Saturday. Despite the rather tame sounding scoreline, it was a momentous victory for City. I will get to why it was so important in a moment. Before then I will pause to take a few digs at Thurrock. It is too tempting to resist.

Thurrock are a relatively recently formed football club, having entered the already crowded London-area football scene in 1985. Here are some other things that happened in 1985: Ian Wright made his League debut with Crystal Palace. Ryan Giggs singed for the Manchester United youth program. Jim Rollo (Bath City's captain) celebrated his ninth birthday. Considering that most of City's opponents were founded in the obscurity of the 19th century, Thurrock is a relative tot in comparison. There is nothing wrong with this, of course. Two very prominent non-league clubs have recent foundings: AFC Wimbledon and FC United. These clubs were formed in response to a groundswell of local support, though. Were any local fans annimated at the prospect of Thurrock's appearance in 1985? Was there an army of potential non-league fans left unsatisfied by local clubs Grays Athletic, Hornchurch or Eton Manor? Oh wait, there was also
View Larger Map Dartford and Gravesend & Northfleet just across the Thames. Oh, and of course East Thurrock United! How could I forget East Thurrock United? So, upon its forming Thurrock FC was able to draw upon the vast army of non-league football fans from the eastern London suburbs not already loyal to Grays Athletic, Hornchurch, Eton Manor, Dartford, Gravesend & Northfleet OR East Thurrock United. How many supporters was that?

It turns out to be not many. But don't worry, the fans that Thurrock has attracted since the year Angie and Dirty Den opened the Queen Vic (1985!) are a plucky bunch. Let's have a look at a rare thread from the Official Thurrock Football Club Forum about the upcoming match against Bath City:

Tony Flood, the Thurrock FC press officer wrote:

'Who else is making the journey to the wonderful city of Bath this weekend?! Hopefully as many of you as possible will be there to sing your lungs out!!'

A respondent known as 'BUM' replied:

'Should be a decent turnout by the sounds of it, there are 11 people going that I know of so far. They'll probably have segregation at this rate.'

That just about sums up Thurrock. In the end there were in fact twelve of them. Not counting club officials. And they did sing their lungs out. Kind of made you think that if all of the non-league fans from that part of the Thames estuary weren't split among a dozen rivals, they could make up a pretty amazing club together. Oh well.

Okay, I'll admit there is something childish about making fun of Thurrock. It is mean-spirited, I suppose, to taunt such an open target. Kind of like making fun of the fat kid, or Weston-super-Mare. I'd better talk about the match.

There is a chap named Jeremy I gossip with before most home matches. He is a level-headed sort of fellow who is able to say something full of football wisdom in almost any situation. As I chatted to him on Saturday Jeremy was of the opinion that a draw against Thurrock would be a very good result for City. As usual, it was hard to fault his logic.

Despite Thurrock only being spared relegation last season because of the financial collapse of Team Bath, they have been near the top of the table for most of this campaign. They were coming to Twerton Park having been defeated only once in their last eight matches. The previous match had been an 8-2 shellacking of fellow playoff hopefuls, Eastleigh. Of course, City were entering the match with an eight game unbeaten streak themselves. This seemed reassuring, until you remembered that City's last defeat was nine matches ago when they lost 3-1 to.....Thurrock.

So, it was with a healthy dose of trepidation that I watched the teams emerge from the tunnel and engage in the pre-game formalities. The City players we had cheered at the end of the Welling match seven days previously had seemed invincible. Now, as I watched them line up against another club, I couldn't help but fret about how fragile their playoff hopes were. This inability to think rationally during matches is why I've never been tempted to pursue a career in football management (that, and the fact that I really don't know much about football compared to the average English twelve-year-old).

Perhaps because of my relative ignorance of the intricacies of football strategy, I often focus on the trivialities that surround the game. As the match kicked off I was intrigued by Thurrock's uniforms. Rather than wearing the club's traditional colours of green and gold (which would have provided ample contrast with City's black and white stripes) they were sporting their away kit of claret and blue. I couldn't remember seeing a club using claret and blue for a 'change kit' before. Perhaps they were hoping to draw a few errant supporters from their Premiership neighbours West Ham? Then I noticed that the Blue Square South league patches on their shirts were in fact white squares (the square patches should have been, fairly obviously, blue). This is a club that should switch to non-biological washing powder, I thought. Or maybe these uniforms were actually knock-off West Ham kits bought from an East End market trader that the club had then altered? But that doesn't explain the faded Blue Square South patch, I realised. West Ham shirts, even counterfeit ones, wouldn't have had those. No, it must be the washing powder...

I was woken from my contemplation by a powerful shot by City striker Kaid Mohamed. I had been paying attention, actually. My mind, or one section of it, had only been allowed to wander a bit because the muscular City midfield once again appeared perfectly capable of cutting off any opposition attack. I stayed pretty focused after Mohamed's shot, though. City were playing like they might score any minute.

Three minutes later, in fact, Lewis Hogg had an almost unmissable shot in front of an open goal. Mark Badman made a fantastic pass to the unmarked Hogg as he rushed into the six yard box. Unfortunately, I had to call the shot 'almost unmissable' for a reason. Hogg missed. It was his first match back after a suspension, though. And he is normally a totally reliable player. Along with the rest of the crowd, I quickly forgave him.

More action was to follow, although this time it was nothing to do with goals. Not content with a desperate lack of supporters, a lack of footballing history, and a regretful choice of washing powder, the Thurrock players decided to give the City supporters some additional reasons to despise them. With spikes showing, Thurrock's Rob Swaine launched a vicious tackle on City's Adam Connolly near the Thurrock bench. Both benches emptied and several scuffles nearly started as Connolly received medical treatment. We all held our breath. Eventually Connolly was able to get up, and he rejoined the match moments later. Match referee Lee Collins decided the fairest outcome would be to give a yellow card to players on both teams. That'll show 'em!

Except it didn't. Thurrock continued to behave like thugs throughout the match. With time, they also managed some spectacular diving screams as well. Yellow cards continued to be handed out by Collins throughout the match, although he was meticulous in making sure no Thurrock player go more than one.

The fates soon made up for the justice Mr. Collins was unwilling to disperse, however, when Rob Swaine helped to gift City the goal that won the match. A long, looping clearance from Chris Holland landed with a high bounce between Swaine and City striker Darren Edwards. City's other striker, Kaid Mohamed, was on the wrong side of the Thurrock defensive line when the ball was struck, so he ran non-chalantly away from the goal to avoid an offside call. Swaine, misinterpreting Mohamed's position as offside, stopped his run and raised his arm, indicating that he was expecting the referee to blow his whistle. All this did, though, was allow Edwards a free run at the goal. The two remaining defenders, who had not been influenced by Swaine's gaffe, were too far away to bring any meaningful pressure on the City striker. Edwards scored, the crowd went wild, and the gods of football were appeased. Thurrock manager, Hakan Hayrettin, moaned a lot after the match about how Mohamed had actually been offside. If I follow his logic correctly, he seemed to think that when Mohamed had been running away from the ball he had actually been making an attempt to get to the ball, just very, very badly.

For the second match in a row City entered the interval with a 1-0 lead over an in-form team. There were a lot of parallels with the Welling match, in fact, by the end of the day. In both matches City made good teams look completely ordinary. In both matches City controlled the game so effectively they really should have scored more goals. In both matches City keeper Ryan Robinson kept a clean sheet (and this time thanks to an excellent reflex save at sixty-eight minutes). In both matches Hector Mackie and David Gilroy made cameo appearances in the closing minutes that made you wonder how such gifted players weren't making the starting lineup. The only real difference was that against Welling the combo of Mackie and Gilroy got a goal. Against Thurrock they came desperately close.

And there was one more similarity. When the final whistle blew both the City players and supporters celebrated with pure joy. Although the victory had in the end seemed a bit routine, we all knew it was a real accomplishment. City's appearance towards the top of the table was not a flash in the pan. They had seen off yet another fellow-contender. The run for a playoff spot was for real. City is a team with no one to fear, everything to play for, and nice crisp colours on their uniforms. Bring on Eastleigh!

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