Watching Football The Berkhamsted Way - Canal Boats And Cheese Sarnies
By Gerry Smith
The last time I'd been to Broadwater, it had been in entirely different circumstances. Berkhamsted Town, fresh from an unforgettable FA Vase run at the turn of the millennium all the way to the final, dispatched Hertford Town with contemptuous ease that night, making this scribe wince in the progress.
Back then, the Comrades played in black and white, had a small but noisy 'ultra' section of support, and the good times seemed to be just rolling on in this sleepy and beautiful part of Hertfordshire.
That was then, though. The here and now is somewhat different. If the love of money is the root of all evil, then the lack of money is the root to many ills and pains. Constant reorganisation of the non-league structure meant Berkhamsted Town were never sure what league or what division they were going to be in from season to season.
On top of that, the money dried up, with success becoming ever more elusive as the bills mounted, purse strings tightened, and players moving on. Despite the sterling efforts of dedicated volunteers and supporters, in 2009, Berkhamsted Town were no more, put into liquidation.
It is always sad to see a football club wound up, but even more so when it's the locals only chance of watching a decent level of football within walking distance of home, especially with a walk alongside somewhere as beautiful as the Grand Union Canal. Non league football serves as such a valuable, integral part of British life and having it taken away for the sake of a balance sheet is always hard to take.
Instead of feeling sorry for themselves, though, these same supporters and volunteers simply started up again. They managed to stay at their pleasant, understated Broadwater home, and the past four seasons have plied their trade, not in the loftier Southern or Isthmian Leagues, but the more localised and sedate South Midlands League.
Happily, albeit on a smaller scale, the good times returned. With a new strip colour of yellow and blue, there also seemed to be a new energy. In their first two seasons, the new Berkhamsted won the Second and First division titles, and since 2011 have sat happily in the league's Premier Division. In the context of having no club at the end of 2008/09, the achievements were phenomenal.
It was therefore in happy spirits that we came to Broadwater, by the banks of that tranquil and sometimes gorgeous Grand Union Canal, but tempered by having the main London-Edinburgh rail line close behind one of the goals. For those not used to it, the noise is a less-than-commonplace distraction as the 3pm Kings Cross to Waverley thunders past.
Great Wakering Rovers pre-season has, of course, been well documented elsewhere. An influx of new signings from Essex Senior League neighbours Southend Manor have strengthened an already decent squad no end. Burroughs Park looks set for some happy times of their own ahead, especially with season tickets from as low as £45.
It was therefore in a very positive, and happy, frame of mind that the game kicked off. The crowd, of course, was sparse, with attention being drawn towards The Ashes, as England's cricketers smashed their Australian counterparts into the Lords dust., holidays, or The Open at Muirfield.
It really was their loss. The first half, in particular, was competitive and entertaining, with both sides creating excellent chances, but being thwarted by sound defending an good goalkeeping. It was therefore perhaps a little harsh on Berkhamsted when Great Wakering Rovers took the lead when Billy Johnson smartly lobbed host custodian Carl Tasker, just before the break.
Johnson, mind, probably deserved it. Missing through injury throughout much of last season, he has a point to prove and was desperately unlucky earlier on when a shot from him came off the Berkhamsted post and bar. Today, the Karma Police may just have been hovering around the stadium.
The turning point, or maybe turning points, came soon after the interval. Adam Seal had again been in great form between the sticks for Rovers, but had no choice but to take down the Comrades' Frankie Jowl as he bore down on goal, around two yards outside the penalty area.
It seemed a certain red card offence, and perhaps in a competitive game it would have been an early shower for Seal, but the referee let me stay on. Perhaps to even things up, however, he awarded the hosts a penalty, on the advice of his linesman, when the offence was clearly well outside the 18 yard box.
Seal, however, produced a brilliant low, diving save to his right from the spot kick, before being injured and substituted collecting the resulting corner.
Rovers, and Billy Johnson, took full advantage, doubling the goal tally by rounding the keeper and tapping in after fine midfield creativity from player-manager Dan Trenkel and another ex Manor signing Jay Smith, impressing all with his non-stop running, harrying and intelligence on the ball.
As play drifted on, attention turned to the linesman, who looked facially exactly like David Cameron, but physically like Danny de Vito after a binge on Gregg's VAT-free pasties. Referring to the penalty that was given earlier, one of the visiting voices dug-out piped up "We;ll have one next, Prime Minister." The poor man is in for some proper stick this season, especially if Cameron himself continues to perform so poorly on the political stage.
Eventually, Trenkel helped himself to another goal, asserting Rovers eventual control of the game, and the confidence that perhaps dissipated a little after earlier pre-season defeats. For the hosts, plenty of encouragement, but also plenty to ponder upon as another campaign in the South Midlands Premier Division beckons.
For the volunteers and supporters, however, they are just happy to be around. The visit was made all the more enjoyable by their friendly chat during the game, showing commendable impartiality discussing talking points on the pitch, and inviting the Rovers supporters into the clubhouse for sandwiches afterwards. Which is more than the Wakering players had after they'd finished with them.
Berkhamsted, it is hoped, will continue to be a success story in its new form. Run top to bottom by good people, they are the epitome of what non-league football is all about and what other clubs should aspire to be. Anyone with a love of football will wish them well in their quest for a return to past glories. The Grand Union Canal, if nothing else, deserves it.
Berkhamsted 0, Great Wakering Rovers 3