Match of the Week: Shoreham 0-5 Seaford Town – SCFL Division 1
It’s all about the ritual, really, isn’t it? For the last year and a half The Football has been out of reach, a form of light entertainment performed in empty stadia, played solely for the benefit of a television audience. But over the last couple of weeks or so, with the European Championships sliding from view with alarming haste after a tournament during which we were promised that football was coming home, only for it to decide that it preferred an extended stay in Italy rather than rainy old England, the new season has been grinding into gear with the alluring promise of a return to ‘normal’.
At Step 5 of the game – the level at which a non-league football club is as far from the National League as a National League club is from the Premier League – and below, the new season started last Saturday, on the last day of July. A lot of clubs at this level at involved in the FA Cup this weekend, the point at which there can be no arguing the point that shit has become real. The new season is upon us, and this isn’t any old new season. This is a new season which has been more keenly anticipated than any other in close to living memory.
These rituals and rhythms don’t just operate on an annual, circular level. They also run in a linear fashion, throughout your entire life. As a child, the match day experience isn’t about what’s happening on the pitch. It’s a sensory experience of sights, smells and sounds. As a teenager, it’s that first feeling of agency when you start attending on your own, or with friends from school. And as you get older, it continues to morph. For a lot of us, it reaches the point at which the rituals start to outweigh everything else. The result of the match isn’t as important as the mildly transgressive feeling of having a pint of beer at lunchtime.
All of which takes us to Shoreham-by-Sea on a showery afternoon in August. I spend most of my Saturday morning trying to read up on Shoreham and Seaford. Shoreham is the hometown of Leo Sayer, but I can’t see him in the small wooden stand at Middle Road. Sensible decision, really. You can’t afford to be going out on a day like this with a perm like that. Seaford, meanwhile, turns out to be the hometown of Tony Caunter, the actor probably best-remembered for playing Roy in Eastenders. The Sayer-Caunter Derby has got a ring to it, but I can’t see it sticking, somehow.
In my personal linear timeline, I’m at the stage where you have to decide which match you’re going to early. It would be something of an overstatement to say that every match has to be planned with military precision, but having a five year old and a three year old does at least mean that I have to take into account the potential boredom of others, appropriate clothing, and promises of refreshments that would make a child nutritionist wince.
There’s a part of me that wants to tell you that my fierce, journalistic attention to detail was disrupted by the goblins I brought with me, but the truth of the matter is that I stopped caring about the results of football matches many years ago. In its own way, live football has returned to being a sensory experience for me. I mean, I could tell you in great detail about the goalscorers and the assists, but only because the volunteers of Seaford Town have already assiduously detailed it all in a match report on their website. Shoreham have been a little more circumspect about it all. Small wonder, considering they lost 5-0.
There is a degree of curiosity about this result, though. The last two seasons of the Southern Combination Football League were abandoned thanks to the pandemic, and there were few clubs in greater need of a reset at this time than Shoreham. In 2017, the club won promotion to the Isthmian League for the first time in their history, but their stay wasn’t a lengthy one. Relegated straight back at the first attempt, they continued to fall, through the top division of this league, before everything started to grind to a halt.
Their league season started last weekend, and Shoreham went to the top of the league table with a 3-0 win at Storrington, while Seaford were beaten by a goal to nil at Epsom & Ewell. From the kick-off, though, Seaford are bigger and stronger than Shoreham. They’re three up by half-time, and there doesn’t seem to be a ready way in which the home side are going to be able to find a way back into the match. Two perfunctory second half goals complete the rout. Our highest moment of excitement comes the end of the match. My younger boy is waddling along behind the goal when a well-hit shot smacks against the advertisement hoarding just in front of him with such force that it partly shatters, making a loud cracking noise that stops him dead in his tracks. After a couple of seconds when it looks possible that his waterworks may add a new level of dampness to the afternoon, but instead he merely proclaims, “THAT WAS LOUD!”, and happily continues with his day.
Not, of course, that any of this matters. There is a point at which Seaford score during the second half and we look to each other: is that the fifth goal? The sixth? We’re standing under the small covered terrace behind the goal, a pint of beer in a plastic glass in our hands, and nothing could really feel less important. It’s nothing personal to the two teams, of course. We’re just taking pleasure from… all of this. Standing under cover while the rain batters against the roof, the kids entertaining themselves and not ruining anybody else’s afternoon. The last year and a half has been difficult for everybody, so I’ll gladly take this little break in the storm.
On our way to the ground, my older boy, Dylan (resplendent in a sparkly pink jacket with a picture of a unicorn on the back and a jumper with pictures of tiger faces all over it) can barely express his excitement over it all. These boys are too young to properly understand football in a meaningful sense. For them, it’s all about the chips and orange juice. “This is the best day”, he tells us as we walk up the road, “And it hasn’t even started yet.” I couldn’t agree more, boy. I couldn’t agree more. The patterns which help us to navigate the world, both circular and linear, are returning. The breaks in the cloud are opening up. Football might not have come ‘home’ in a broad sense this summer, but it did yesterday in a considerably smaller and more personal sense, and I’ll take that – every week for the next ten months, if possible.