Tinfoil Hats & September Sun
Buzzing is a bloody understatement! Tooting have just knocked out Dorking Wanderers out of the FA Cup. Playing with 10 men for most of the second half. And I know what you’re thinking, Tooting must have been hanging on by the skin of their teeth for the last 30 minutes, last ditch challenges flying in and Shaw launching himself from post to post with gravity defying saves! But it wasn’t. And if truth be told, it felt comfortable.
And just like that, drawing inspiration from “Fight Club”- and many other fantastic films from the 90’s- I’ve teased you with a glimpse of how the film ends. But as David Fincher has taught me, the story is in how we got to celebrating at full time and to do that we seamlessly swoop back to the 9th of this month with the draw...
When the draw came out, the sight of seeing Tooting face up against the highest seeded team we could in Dorking (who sit 4th in the Conference South) must have been a blessing for those who love to blow the dust off their tinfoil hats and theorise how the FA’s only intent is to see Tooting fail. The conspiracies run deeper than those about Area 51, but to me the Tooting and Area 51 conspiracies aren’t mutually exclusive...The FA clearly broke AFC Varndeanians out of Area 51 so Tooting would play the lowest ranked side in the 1st FA Qualifying round, to butter us up before slamming Dorking at our doorstep. The FA can’t be trusted. Ahem.
Whether you believe the FA cup draw is rigged against Tooting, or the draw is a completely just and fair because there would literally be no gain for the FA risking the integrity of the whole FA cup to give Tooting a tricky tie, it provided an extremely tough task for Tooting! The optimist in me saw it as a chance to test ourselves against a good side, with the freedom of no expectations on the result.
Dorking and Tooting are no strangers to each other, as Tooting won the league at Dorking’s old ground on goal difference, creating something of a friendly between the two teams. Dorking subsequently won the playoffs that year, and then stayed up the following year as Tooting got relegated, then gained another promotion to the Conference South... However, they now play on a plastic pitch, so I think we all know who’s really in a better place since 2017!
Game day swung around and on cue the beating September sun was shining in full force, clearly not ready to miss any of the action at Imperial Fields! The air was filled with excitement, as many Dorking fans had made the trip donning their red and white colours with pride- a pleasant change hosting a side bringing an away presence, which would only add to the atmosphere of this big game!
Against the norm of Non-League football, fans of both teams stood behind the goal Tooting were attacking in the first half, creating good humoured chants ping ponging between the sets of fans! With neither team really getting a proper foothold in the game, which favoured the side two leagues below, there weren’t any major clear cut chances.
I’m sure everyone wishing the home team through would have taken that prior to the match, and the game being level seemed to be a fair assessment of how both teams fared in the first half.
The second half is where things got tasty. Dominic Morgan-Griffiths broke on a Tooting counter attack, kept his composure and squared the ball to the incoming Danny Bassett, who slotted the ball calmly past the keeper. Tooting were ahead. Keep calm, there’s still 40 minutes to go- but Tooting were ahead.
It felt like it would be a typical Tooting crumble when Sol got himself sent off with half an hour to go, an unnecessary second yellow for words said to the ref. Being 80 yards away from the incident, it’s impossible to say whether it was just or not, but the result was the
same. 10 men. Thankfully, the side is fairly used to battling with 10 men so far this season, so all were hoping that practice could prove to be useful!
It should have been hearts in mouths time for the last half hour, and don’t get me wrong *I* was sweating it- but the 10 men on the pitch weren’t. I can’t recall a single clear cut chance for Dorking. I was lucky enough to have friends along for the match, two of whom making their debut to Imperial Fields. They must have known something I didn’t, as they were asking about when the next round would be played (Thankfully this didn’t jinx us)!
Some sharp changes helped us hold on. Nebay on for George, with Bassett dropping into the RWB was key. Bassett once again showing how versatile a player he is, with a solid performance in the more defensive position. Dontai came on for Hady, and had a chance to ice the game with a chance late on, but sadly wasn’t able to beat the Dorking keeper.
The full time whistle was met with a cheer from the Bog End, and it felt like the weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders. Just 2 games from the first round proper. What was once a distant dream could just be round the corner. As a wise man who goes by the name of Adam Best echoed through preseason “It’s the hope that kills you”.
In the next round, Tooting will face Poole Town at Imperial Fields on 5th October. A team going strong in the one league directly above, but with the draw gifting Tooting our 4th consecutive home tie, who knows what will happen...?
📸 by Stephen Willerton