Where to begin?
A beautiful day, swathed in sunlight. Is there anything more welcoming than sunny days in September, when you’re mentally preparing for the intoxicating colours of autumn as a prelude to the bleak winter nights, when daylight seems as much a thing of the past as video recorders and Watney’s Red Barrel (I should point out here, that I start work stupidly early, in a basement, and therefore only see daylight at weekends in winter). Sunlit afternoons are consequently a thing to be savoured, particularly when no longer accompanied by the sort of heat that renders one incapable of rational thought; sunlit afternoons with an attractive football fixture on the menu are to be anticipated, treasured, and filed in the mind to eulogise about years later, when all one has left are the memories to accompany the dribble making it’s way down your shirt.
And so it was, on this most balmy of days, that the largest crowd of the season so far made their way to Fortress Imperial, sniffing the air and declaring that the mighty (well, two divisions higher!) Wanderers of Dorking were already changing into their emergency underwear at the thought of what the fledging Terrors, themselves barely out of nappies, were going to subject them to (either that, or the nearby Beddington Farm sewage works were having one of their ‘off’ days). Bolstered by the largest travelling army seen in these parts for quite some time, the atmosphere positively crackled as kick-off approached. My custom of eschewing pre-match refreshment in favour of watching the lads warm up, and thereby trying to ascertain whether they had their shooting boots on or not, was somewhat unnerved by the amount of punishment the woodwork took in this period. That, and the ominous single magpie dancing around the terrace in front of me (thankfully seen off by a Nebay curler that almost rendered him an ex-magpie) ushered in dark thoughts about the possibility of ‘one of those days’ lying ahead… But I needn’t have worried. Even the Dorking hordes who attempted to lay claim to our territory by occupying the home end during the first 45 were increasingly subdued as the hosts took the game by the scruff of neck from the word go, and piled forward like men possessed. Danny Bassett, scurrying around the visitor’s penalty area, rabid in his intensity as if he’d been fed on raw steak for breakfast. Razzaq Coleman, bamboozling the hapless Wanderer’s left-back who must have wished he’d stayed at home with the giant cock (Google it), as another flick and trick and burst of pace left him floundering on the turf. DMG and Darryl (fired up against his former club) orchestrating from midfield like conductors leading an orchestra in a great symphony. The visitors, so flummoxed by the tide against them, were so disoriented they even tried to take the ball off Deano; you can guess how that turned out…
And then … a chance! Danny breaking clear of their back line, clearly onside, and bearing down on goal as the ‘keeper advanced. The Bog End held it’s collective breath; will he smash it? curl it? attempt to take it round him? In the end, he went for placement, and the ‘keeper blocked, but the home side’s tails were up, and Dorking already needed a plan B. That plan, and this is one we have encountered before, seemed to be to wind the home side up, and try to entice us into talking ourselves into trouble. For once, we didn’t fall for it, and kept our heads admirably. Dorking finally managed at last to start mounting some pressure, but the back line, marshalled superbly by Captain Sol, kept their shape superbly, and but for a couple of token long-range attempts (which troubled the Lacrosse players on the pitch behind more than they did James Shaw) the half ended with Tooting back on top again, and looking the more likely to break through.
This they did, early in the second half, and the goal was worthy of winning any match; DMG with a purposeful run to the byline, shaking off a pair of defenders on the way, and cutting the ball back beautifully for the onrushing Bassett to gleefully slot it home. Cue pandemonium on the terraces, and I suspect my bag of half-time chips wasn’t the only one to go flying over the wall, as Danny disappeared beneath a throng of jubilant team-mates. Oh well, at least the cleverer pigeons eat well in the south London riviera…
But had we scored too early? With 40 minutes still to go, surely that would just wake the visitors up, and finally we would be treated to National league (south) class, as the Wanderers put us little upstarts back in our rightful place? Not a bit of it; the goal having the opposite effect, as the flustered visitor’s attempts to find inspiration from somewhere – anywhere – floundered, once again, on the rocks of the impenetrable Tooting defence. And still we looked to go forward, no point in trying to sit on this lead – let’s really put it to bed, seemed to be the attitude. Razzaq bursting through again, trickery on the byline taking him into the penalty area and a harassed defender pulled him to the ground. Penalty! Surely? The (admittedly biased) Bog End were in no doubt, but the referee ignored the appeals and waved play on. A dubious decision, to put it kindly, and one that Sol wasn’t going to take lying down. Unfortunately, said referee was in no mood to be told how to control the game and, though a yellow card may have been justifiable punishment, it was the red that emerged from his pocket, and Tooting were forced to play the final half an hour a man light. As a furious captain stormed from the field of play, the Tooting bench were not exactly coy in letting the referee know what they thought of the decision, resulting in the official suggesting to Cornelius that he would much prefer watching the remainder of the game from somewhere other than the touchline area. Finally, Tooting & Mitcham were rattled and surely, this was the lifeline that Dorking were going to grab with both hands?
Er, no; and an indication once again that while possession may be nine tenths of the law, but it’s significantly less important when determining the outcome of a football match and, for all their dominance of the ball in the time remaining, Dorking created a grand total of no clear chances to trouble Shaw. None, zero, zip. Indeed, it was the home side who came closest to sealing the game in the closing stages, even having the audacity to bring on two attacking players in Dontai Stewart and Nebay Haile as the conclusion neared, either of whom could have finished the visitors off within minutes of their arrival. Firstly, Dontai broke clear from the halfway line and advanced toward the goal with seemingly one thing on his mind, before a crucial hesitation and a lacklustre shot as a defender closed him down, resulted in a comfortable save; then some sparkling approach play from Nebay culminated in a decent shot from outside the area, but didn’t trouble the ‘keeper. As Dorking, pressed, and Tooting defended and blocked manfully, DMG lofted a long pass out of defence and Hady Ghandour looked set for a solo run on goal until a harassed Wanderer cynically took his legs away. A disgraceful challenge, the hapless defender clearly intending to stop Hady by foul means, which should have resulted in the evening up of the numbers on both sides, but only drew the milder coloured card from the increasingly beleaguered referee, to howls of disagreement on the terraces.
Time ticked on, well past the 90 minute mark, as the crowd bayed for the official to put an end to proceedings – and just when it seemed he was determined to keep the ball in play until they dragged us back to their godforsaken strip of artificialism in the sticks, he obliged, sending the home support into the kind of frenzy not seen in these parts for quite some time. Grown men cried, as the players and officials (including Bruno majestically sporting the new bucket hat*) soaked up the adulation from the Bog End faithful, and the Dorking inquest began in the opposite half of the field.
And so, the Terrors march on, ready to put the fear into the next opponents the FA’s magic bag pairs us up with, fearing nobody in our fortress by the Wandle.
Next up? Poole Town FC.
(*available from Hackbridge Harry’s table superstore, while stocks last)