Having had approximately four hours sleep after a bellyful of cockerel and beef yesterday evening, what better way could I have spent Boxing Day afternoon than at The Victor Gladwish Stadium, Woodside Road, Worthing, for a derby match in the Ryman League Premier Division against Horsham? First up, a bit of history. I have a minute degree of attachment to both teams. I work near Worthing, and read about their desperate attempts to avoid relegation on a weekly basis in the local paper, the Worthing Herald. However, my parents and my sister live in Horsham. You can understand my dilemma.
One important thing to point out is that Worthing FC want me dead. For one thing, their floodlights all have tetra masts attached to the top them, a move which seems singularly designed to turn the brains of all of their season ticket holders into scrambled eggs. Secondly, they sold me a cheeseburger which transcended awfulness and took me to a new level of culinary despair. I daresay that I’ll find out over the next few days whether I’ve contracted SARS or beri-beri or whatever.
The match was between third from bottom in the league and third from the top though, as ever seems to be the case nowadays, the long term prognosis for the two terms concerned is more mixed. Worthing are unexpectedly struggling, and are captained by the former Bradford City midfielder and Jamaican international Jamie Lawrence. Horsham are in the middle of a promotion scrap for a place in the Conference South, and have a small but noisy (and, I might venture, more than a little soaked on booze) bunch of supporters.
You wouldn’t guess from watching them blind that there are sixteen places between the two teams, and Worthing take the lead after eleven minutes when Charman put through his own goal from a corner. Horsham, however, looked the better organised of the two teams and had most of the play for the rest of the half, though it took a mistake from Worthing goalkeeper Rikki Banks (the November Player Of The Month, according to a poster in the bar – a sure sign of a team in trouble is when the goalkeeper gets this sort of award), who drops a fairly routine cross right on half-time to allow Hemsley to level things up.
At half-time, much of the talk is now about how many Horsham will win by. The confidence of a team at the bottom of the table is often brittle. However, something that The Rebels’ (to give Worthing their nickname – one could only conclude, on the basis of their first half performance, that they are rebelling against keeping the ball on the floor) manager said at half-time must have had some effect, because they come tearing out of the blocks in the second half like greyhounds. Within ten minutes of the re-start, Fraser has been put through on goal and rounded the goalkeeper, only to be stopped by a magnificent sliding tackle by the Horsham captain Hemsley. He doesn’t have to wait too long, though – a couple of minutes later he finishes off a smart passing move with a diving header to put them back in front.
Suddenly, we’ve got a game on our hands. Horsham look shell-shocked, and five minutes later, the game is put more or less out of their reach when Day volleys in a third Worthing goal from thirty yards out. The two Worthing goals in the second half are, somewhat surprisingly, every inch a match for anything that Barcelona could manage last week. Horsham start pushing forward in a more and more reckless manner, but can only manage a consolation through Hemsley with thirteen minutes to play. All the excitement seems to go to the head of the referee, who allows a somewhat jaw-dropping seven minutes of injury time before finally calling time. To my delight, the PA man celebrates the victory by playing a Midi version of “Sussex By The Sea”.
The whole afternoon was, of course, a million miles removed from the sanitised environment of the World Club Cup. Every shout from the players could be heard by everybody in the ground (and there were a hearty 455 of us hardy souls there), including the Horsham player who was berated by one of his colleagues for not playing to the whistle and responded with a hearty, “what’s the fucking point? I was ten fucking yards offside!”. Such honesty wouldn’t go amiss in the Premiership. A thoroughly entertaining and absorbing afternoon’s football.