In football, as in so many other areas of drama and entertainment the lion’s share of popular discourse centres on the moments of high excitement and controversy when, as anybody that regularly goes to matches will be able to tell you without skipping a beat, these are the moments that we define our experience by precisely because of that rarity value. Football may be as globally successful as it is precisely because it mirrors life so eerily in some ways. There are highlights of beauty and brilliance, but a lot of it is mere bread and butter. The equivalent of doing the washing or fixing a tyre.
Of course, if football precisely mirrored life, people wouldn’t be that excited by it, so football contains a higher proportion of exciting moments than your normal life. Sometimes, however, all you get is the bread and butter, and it feels as if “the football” is going on elsewhere, and sometimes the writing is on the wall. Histon against Altrincham in the Blue Square Premier. Twelfth against eleventh in the table. Three weeks before Christmas. There’s something in the air which seems to be indicating that this isn’t going to be one of the greatest matches of the season, yet six hundred and seventy-six doughty souls have had it sold to them that this match is worth being at.
“Not bad for a village team”, says a sign that hangs limply from one of the two stands that line one side of “The Glassworld Stadium” (which used to be known as Bridge Road and these days doubles up as the headquarters of the Cambridgeshire Football Association), and they’re right. This particular village team were an Eastern Counties League team a decade or so ago. Four protmotions rocketed them into the Blue Square Premier, and last season they made the Third Round of the FA Cup and the play-offs before losing to Torquay United. The biggest urprise about the Histon story is probably not that they made it to the BSP, rather that they are surviving comfortably in the division and don’t look like getting relegated any time soon.
Histon’s team is different to the one that surprised so many people last season (manager Steve Fallon is still there, but John Beck has now gone), and Bridge Road has changed a little too. It’s a smart and tidy little ground – seated on both sides and with covered terracing at each end – and it has one feature that is a comparative rarity, which is dug outs that are made primarily of glass (this, presumably, is something to do with their Glassword sponsorship) and also set within the perimeter wall, which means that one can stand right next to the dug outs and listen to the uncensored wisdom of the management team. This is a particularly welcome development, considering that Altrincham’s manager is Graham Heathcote, who marauds around his technical area like a caged tiger, throwing forward profanities with liberal abandon.
In the first half, he has plenty of cause for profanity. Histon settle to their task quickly, and Altrincham’s attacks are uninspiring. Heathcote doesn’t seem impressed by his team (“Bag of shite” is his considered opinion for one cross that sails harmlessly over the goal) or by the referee – every free-kick against his team is treated like a miscarriage of justice of Birmingham Six proportions – and he provides considerably more entertainment than the two evenly matched teams, who spend most of the first half cancelling each other out. Both teams are well organised defensively, but too much of the passing is too aimless or just plain sloppy.
During half-time, the rain starts to fall. It’s not heavy – just slight and persistant and enough to soak you through without you noticing. Ten minutes into the second half, a wayward pass releases Chris Senior for Altrincham but the Histon goalkeeper Danny Naisbitt is quick off his line and blocks the shot. From then on, the match becomes little more than a war of attrition. Altrincham look the more likely of the two teams to score but their final ball is largely lacking, the best other chance of the second half falls to Robbie Williams, whose header from a free-kick is flicked over by Naisbitt.
Full-time comes without the Altrincham goalkeeper Stuart Coburn having been seriously troubled, and the talk at the bar is largely concerned with what has been going on elsewhere. Oxford and Stevenage have both won, consolidating their places at the top of the table whilst, more significantly, Histon’s local rivals Cambridge United have dropped two points at struggling Eastbourne Borough and stay only just above these two clubs in the Blue Square Premier table. Too good to go down and probably not good enough to go up, it seems like that Altrincham and Histon, barring anything cataclysmic happening to either club, will continue to sit in the middle of the table. For Altrincham, who have struggled to avoid relegation in recent years and have been the beneficiaries of goings-on elsewhere more than once. For Histon… yeah. Not bad for a village team.