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Tales of a footballholic

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Tuesday 30th April 2013, 7:44pm. “Good evening, my name is Brian Jeeves and I’m a footballaholic, it has been four days since my last game and I’m here simply because I’m beyond help!”

Yep, the dust had barely settled on Southend United’s headbangingly (is that really a word?) frustrating season and already I’m craving the beautiful game, and for that matter, any game!  Fortunately, the squally winter has resulted in a backlog of fixtures for our local non-league clubs. Therefore, instead of settling back on the sofa with a beer for the Champions League semi-final between Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund, I am quenched my insatiable football thirst by travelling to the suburbs of the White Stiletto Acropolis (also known as Basildon) to see Bowers & Pitsea take on Southend Manor in the murky world of the Essex Senior League. 

On arrival at the Len Salmon Stadium, I discover that I’m not alone. A hardy bunch numbering 47 have sort footballing solace at tonight’s low-key encounter. Bowers have always been a friendly club, and tonight is no exception. Stadium announcer Julia and her husband Paul offer me a warm welcome with the promise of tea and biscuits at half time and as many sandwiches and sausage rolls as I can physically consume in the meantime.   

In fairness, I don’t think either of tonight’s teams will look back at their league campaign with any real satisfaction. Manor, never really reached the standards they set a year ago in both the league and most notably the FA Cup, whereas for Bowers an impressive run to the League Cup Final has made up for some wretched domestic form.

Manor enjoys the brighter start. Talismanic front man Gary Patterson fires a warning of what’s to come when his shot flashes across the face of the home sides goal. Then the same player cuts in from the left before dispatching a thundering right foot drive beyond Michael Doyle in the Bowers goal. It’s a honey of a strike from a player who at first glimpse seems to have enjoyed a pint and curry too many. Nevertheless, Patto always seems to come up with the quickest route to goal, personally, I’m surprised the big target man hasn’t had an opportunity to display his talents at a much higher level.  

Before Bowers can rally, their troubles deepen. Doyle’s misjudgement of a big “doff” forward presents Mark Session with the simple task of walking the ball into the unguarded rigging, 2-0 to the visitors with barely fifteen minutes played.

Bowers are clearly shell-shocked; nevertheless, Callum Leahy and “Manni” Mtangadura are yet to chuck in the towel. Their busy displays epitomise footballers playing for a cup final shirt, Manor might be in control, but these boys are determined to make them work up a sweat for the points.

The visitors continue to create the bulk of the chances. Patterson found Doyle’s midriff with another lengthy effort while David Tubbs fired wide after racing clear.

Manor were now leading their hosts a merry dance. Jamie Salmon produced a “Shane Warne” of a delivery with a free kick from the left. The backpedalling Doyle was in trouble “Mike Gatting style” as the ball viciously twisted over him and found the net via the upright.

Three goals in arrears, Bowers finally warmed the fingers of Manor custodian Adam Seal when Leahy let fly from fully twenty-five yards, but as the home side desperately struggled to keep their heads above water, Manor continued to manufacture wave after wave of attacks.

After Patterson and Salmon had gone close, David Tubbs drew an exceptional save out of Doyle who tipped his goal bound header onto the bar with an acrobatic leap.

To their enormous credit, the home support amongst the sparse gathering continued to offer cries of encouragement to their beleaguered charges. Although one particular chap sat close by has spent more time chewing the fat over whether to take the burger or hotdog option with his cuppa. As the whistle sounded for half time, he is seemingly no nearer a clear-cut decision!   

Julia and Paul invite me to the boardroom during the interval, a mug of hot steamy char and a clutch of chocolate bikkies are thrust into my mitts, what clubs such as Bowers & Pitsea lack in grandeur, they more than make up for with a hospitable reception.

The home side start the second period with a little more vigour; the tackles are coming in thick ‘n’ fast and a sense of urgency has emerged in their general all-round play. However, before they can make any real headway, the visitors strike again. Jamie Matthews whips in a flag kick towards the head of Ash Pibworth who in turn floats in like the proverbial butterfly and stings like, well, a big stingy thing! 

The Seasider’s are rampant! Terry Griffiths produces the footballing equivalent of a waltz through the Bowers rearguard, before finishing the dance with an exquisite chip over Doyle from an acute angle.

The home crowd are still in a humorous mood, “To be honest, I’d take a draw now” I hear one stand dweller say!

Bowers have the final opportunity of the evening, Mtangadura firing disappointingly wayward with a clear sight of goal. Despite being a somewhat one-sided affair, the game had been played in good spirit and was excellently officiated. I’m suitably impressed as I’ve seen some mind bogglingly bad whistlers at Football League level this season.

I depart the ground content with my evenings “fix”. Doing a 40-mile round trip to take in a match, chasms below the professional game, would suggest that my addiction for football is out of control, but it’s not like that...I could give it up if I wanted to...honest, I could...couldn’t I?  

Bowers & Pitsea; M Doyle, Thoma, Gladen, Cris Leahy, Mtangadura, Callum Leahy, Falaise, Tapley, Wilson, Allen, Collins.

Substitutes; Clarke, Blackwell, Chapman, J Doyle, Franklin.

Southend Manor; Seal, East, Matthews, Griffiths, Vaughan, Salmon, Pibworth, Tubbs, Patterson, Sisson.

Substitutes; Jude, Ivie, Jarrett, Kemp, Smith 

Attendance; 47