I guess that I started to think that this was a bad idea on the train from Brighton to Shoreham-by-Sea. There didn’t appear to be too many people travelling west, but, at every station on the way there, I could see dozens of people going in the opposite direction, wearing the blue & white stripes of Brighton & Hove Albion. I mentioned on here the extent to which The Seagulls rule Sussex football, and it didn’t help my state of mind much to be reminded that there were bigger matches going on within easy distance of my seaside abode, and that I was voluntarily taking this option.
The FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round is about as far from Wembley stadium and the Premier League as you could possibly imagine. This is football at which you can get a pint of lager in a plastic glass and take it anywhere you like in the entire ground. There are no policemen here, and no stewards tellling you what to do. The crowd is barely 100 people, and the kick-off is delayed, not due to congestion at the turnstiles, but because the Shoreham official delegated to switch the pre-match P.A. music off can’t work out how to do it. Even at this level, they’re not allowed to play with a musical soundtrack, though if they were, the most suitable music might have been the theme tune to “The Benny Hill Show”. The football is enthusiastic, high-paced and, well, not terribly good. Shoreham started the stronger of the two sides, but Horley soon settled and took control.
Our interest in the game had waned somewhat with the knowledge that they had sambuca and Sky Sports in the bar. Standing around the entrance to it gave us the best of both worlds – an endless supply of cheap drink, all the latest scores as they came in (unsurprisingly, more of the people there appeared interested in how the Albion were getting on against Northampton than in what was going on before their very eyes) and a live match in front of us. Horley hit the crossbar just before half-time, but it remained goal-less at half-time. During the half-time break, whilst we absorbed the scores coming in from elsewhere, I pondered the fact that I might be present in the least eventful match of the day in the whole of England. I felt kind of guilty for being so dismissive of what was taking place in front of me – after all, this was the FA Cup, it had only cost £4 to get in, and there was a bottle of sambuca winking at me from the shelf behind the bar.
The second half was enlivened by a goal for Horley with about twenty minutes to play – a smart enough shot from the edge of the penalty area into the bottom corner – and this seemed to wake Shoreham up a bit. This, coupled with the fact that they were shooting towards the end with a bit of cover behind it, meant that the curiously disinterested atmosphere that had enveloped the first half dissipated, to be replaced by something approaching the atmosphere of a real football match. They swarmed forward, creating several decent chances (though the best, which brought a terrific diving save from the Horley goalkeeper, came from one of his own players), but couldn’t convert their possession into goals, and Horley came away with the win. They take on East Preston in the next round, in three weeks time. I rather feel that this level of football is a step too low for me. I’m not averse to bad football, but what we saw yesterday was below the dividing line between professional football and what you could see on a park pitch on a Sunday morning. Still, they do have sambuca behind the bar, and being able to have a drink whilst watching the match has a lot to recommend it. In spite of everything, I could see myself returning to this level again this season.
More on the rest of the weekend’s events to follow this evening.