Wood You Adam And Steve It?
By Gerry Smith
Sometimes, football is a game on contrasts. A town known, for one reason or another, the world other, can host a club largely forgotten. A densely populated area may harbour a side where there's less support than for a democrat in Alabama.
Such is the case with Brentwood Town. Plying a reasonable trade in Ryman One North, nestled just beside and below the main A12 road to London, less than 100 souls of it's 73,600 town population can be bothered to support their local side.
It's a crying shame. Brentwood itself has possibly never had such a higher public profile, in the UK and perhaps beyond, thanks to the dimwitted, self centred, but harmless exploits of The Only Way Is Essex crowd. The Sugar Hut, Lucy's Boutique, and the Amy Childs Salon have become almost tourist spots rather than pub, club, and shops.
Yet the national sport, the beautiful game, seems to have by-passed the town's consciousness. It's a crying shame as there's actually a rich footballing history running through Brentwood. Any place whose football side (albeit in another incarnation) contested an FA Cup Quarter Final as far back as 1886, losing to eventual winners Blackburn Rovers, must have some sort of pedigree.
Indeed, football in Brentwood has had a colourful history, cup runs interspersed in liquidations, and Jimmy Greaves thrown in for good measure. At the back end of his legendary playing days, when alcoholism had set in deeply,
Jimmy still showed his class one memorable afternoon at Basildon United, scoring four goals in an 8-1 Brentwood victory, and deeply impressing a young and impressionable would-be writer.
Essex Senior League triumphs led, eventually, to promotion to the Ryman League in 2007, when the coveted ESL 'treble' of League, Cup and Gordon Brasted Trophy was won. Since then, Brentwood Town have operated comfortably at Division One North level, including an agonising play-off final defeat in 2011.
Even now, though, the club still continued to do their level best to make themselves noticed. During the summer, manager Steve Witherspoon moved on, and new incumbent Les Whitton took with him almost an entirely new squad.
In spite of this, though, on a mild summer evening, just 70 hardy souls, some of them supporting the visitors, turned up for their first home game of the new campaign. It was an intriguing one as well. Erith & Belvedere arrived newly promoted from the Kent Football League, and full of confidence after their 3-1 win on the opening day against Redbridge.
The hosts had lost to a similar margin, though this was somewhat less than unexpected, away at hot title favourites Maldon & Tiptree. That Brentwood even faced them in the same league was an improbability of miraculous proportions.
Maldon & Tiptree had somehow thrown away a 15 point lead, then in the play-offs surrendered a two goal lead in the final played at their home ground. Add to that a controversial FA Cup defeat at the hands - and fists at the end - of Brentwood Town, and it was always going to end messy on the opening day.
Again, though, as you enter the somewhat ironically titled Arena, you are again struck by the warmth of doughty volunteers as soon as you walk through the turnstiles. It is another club underpinned by spirit an endeavour of a few good souls. The very heartbeat of football.
It also hosts one of football more amusing quirks. The press box, at first glance, looks to be in perfect position on the half way line. A glance to the left reveals otherwise. With a wire mesh gate, blazing late evening sunshine, and tarpaulin tunnel meeting your eyes, the view was at best minimalist at one end, much to the chagrin of one press chap in particular. Though not this one, who simply sat and chortled.
It was a wise choice in the first half. The best part of the game was both sides kit. Brentwood Town in their smart light blue shirts and socks with white shorts. Erith & Belvedere looked even more natty though. Red and white quartered shirts, with red shorts.
Very impressive they looked. Which was just as well as it hid to a small extent the level of play. Too many passes going astray, too much timidity in the final third of the pitch. Half time came as a blessed relief to everyone. To, I suspect, the players as well, who knew they could do better.
In the second half, Brentwood Town did. The catalyst was right back Lippy Mtyanda. His rampaging runs forward caused the Kent side no end of problems. It was from one such run that Steve Cavell, with a decent low shot saved in the first half, was put through in the 66th minute.
He looked offside. the ref and lino thought he wasn't. Before there was any argument, he finished smartly with a low curling shot nestling just inside the left hand corner of the net.
Seven minutes later, the game was decided. A corner on the left was whipped in quickly and defender Martyn Stokes bulleted a header home from inside the six yard box. Two in two games for Stokes, leading goalscorer. He, as well as the coaching staff, will relish and chuckle at that.
As the 70 souls scuttled off into the night, it was the 73,550 or so who again ignored their rich football heritage that missed out. There was a feeling that Brentwood as a footballing town may, just may, be getting up a head of steam again.
In which case who needs Towie or the Sugar Hut? When you've got the Arena, a blocked view, and a rampaging full back, life is sweet enough as it is.
Brentwood Town 2, Erith & Belvedere 0