Saturday 23rd September 2017, 1500 KO
Worcester Park FC vs Eversley & California FC
The Build Up
I pitched up at Worcester Park today to watch a top of the table clash in the Cherry Red Records Combined Counties Football League Division One (to use the full and somewhat wordy name…). The Park finished fourth last season and both they and today’s opposition, Eversley & California, have set off at a frenetic pace this year. With the visitors in first place and Worcester Park in second, this match was the proverbial six pointer. If nothing else, the match promised goals, with their combined 18 matches resulting in 59 goals so far. This has been due in part to the efforts of Park’s Harrison Deacon and The Boars’ Adam Aimable who have seven and five goals respectfully.
Eversley & California have started the season in fine form, losing only once from nine matches to open up a four point lead at the top. I have literally never heard of Eversley, but Wikipedia assures its in Hampshire. This caused me some confusion when their ‘keeper informed me that they’re from “around Camberley, Wokingham, sort of Hampshire, Surrey way.” His lack of precision leads me to believe Eversley may be like Platform 9 ¾ and only exists for those who know how to find it…
Upon arrival I was beckoned through by the gentleman at the gate, who informed me that tickets were £5, which included a programme (individually valued at £2 and very comprehensive for this level), before indulging at the kitchen. Skinners Field has easily the most comprehensive menu I’ve seen at a nonleague (or even league) football match which immediately places a club very high on my list of recommendations. I settled for a Dr Pepper, hot dog and cheesy chips at £5.50 all in and settled down to read the programme.
I’ve seen Skinners Field almost daily as I pass through Worcester Park station, and knowing the league Worcester Park play in have always wondered at the lack of floodlights. A pre-match chat with manager Gary Taylor revealed that they, along with Staines Lammas, Farleigh Rovers and Sheerwater have been threatened with expulsion from the league by the FA if this isn’t rectified. At a level where players pay subs to play, and club staff self-fund membership of their own club, I think it is absolutely disgraceful that the FA would issue such threats on the basis of such an expensive piece of infrastructure as floodlights.
There were probably in the region of 60-70 people watching the match, and the bar was doing a thriving trade. On top of this, Worcester Park had made full use of their youth teams, bringing in the U14s to work as ball boys, and some of the even younger kids as mascots. It all contributed to a great atmosphere as kick off approached down in South West London.
If both these teams have started this season at a hectic pace, then the first few minutes of this match were certainly indicative as to why. After only two minutes a cross from Worcester Park’s right wing found number nine Joe Cheesman unmarked. In a textbook example of forward play he had drifted into the box, then pulled up to lose his man, before meeting the cross and heading past Charlie Lusty in goal.
It was almost level within sixty seconds though, when Adam Aimable got his first chance of the match. His swivel in the box after a loose ball broke to him gave enough space to get the shot away, but ‘keeper Rob Palmer watched in relief as his effort flew wide of the post. Only five minutes later, Lewis Robson was repeating the trick as a hopeful looped ball beat the Park offside trap. With the ball dropping over his shoulder, he did well to even get a volley away, but it flashed wide.
Eversley & California were building up quite a head of steam as the first half progressed, and it seemed only a matter of time before they levelled things up. And, on 18 minutes, they didn’t. They should have done, and probably thought they had, but a fantastic diving save by Palmer from Robson’s snapshot kept the hosts in front. It was the first in a series of great saves throughout the match by Worcester Park’s goalie who showed a cat-like agility that betrayed his fuller figured physique.
However, he couldn’t keep out Eversley & California all by himself, and as the half wore on he was getting precious little help from anywhere else. A succession of hurried, hassled and hapless clearances resulted in a lofted ball into the box. Palmer came out to challenge, but was beaten in the air by right back Ryan White, a man who could feasibly give his hand-me-downs to Goliath. Standing (approximately) 9 feet tall, he always had the beating of Palmer and headed in to even the scores.
That goal was a warning of things to come for Worcester Park as Eversley & California pumped long balls into the channels, exposing the makeshift defence. With three players missing at the back, the visitors took full advantage of the pressed men who were uncertain in their positioning. When the ball fell to Jon Pantony after an aerial bombardment similar to that which North Korea can soon expect, his shot across goal was nodded in by Lewis Robson to put the Hampshire/Surrey/Berkshire/Narnia side in front.
That was the 35th minute, and ten minutes later, right on the stroke of half time, Eversley & California extended their lead. A clear handball in the middle of the pitch was completely ignored by the referee and the ball broke to Lewis Robson. He made the most of it and rifled a shot past Palmer into the net. The goal should never have stood, but that is to take nothing away from Robson, whose finish was immaculate. This to round off a good half from Robson, and a particularly influential ten minutes.
1-3 at half time, and it really was difficult to see how Worcester Park would get back into this match. It wasn’t that there was a noticeable difference in quality, or even work rate, but Eversley were simply executing their long ball strategy very well. With only two players (skipper Gary Knowelden for Park and Sam Hutchings for Eversley) really working to get the ball on the deck and play, I suspect both sets of centre backs will have been reaching for the Nurofen during the break.
The second half started as the first finished, when Aimable raced through on goal. Palmer was out well with a save to keep the scores respectable and that seemed to kick start the Worcester Park response. In a manic five minute spell, the crowd at Skinners Field saw the score change from 1-3 to 4-3 and deservedly so.
On 51 minutes a Knowelden free kick was clipped into the box, at which point the formerly decision-phobic referee rushed into the area pointing to the spot. Confusion reigned, until the chap in black announced that number three Connor Allston had been tugging a shirt and the penalty was awarded. Up stepped Mark Waters to confidently slam the ball into the bottom left corner. 3-2 and game on.
Under a minute after the restart, Waters had his second chance from the spot, and this time there was no doubting the decision. A nice through ball found the lively Joe Cheesman and he was hacked down by Allston, who essentially single handedly levelled the scores.
This time Waters’ penalty was even better and he dispatched it into the absolute top corner of the net, giving Lusty in goal no chance.
Then, on 56 minutes the turnaround was complete. With the wind behind and them and taking full advantage of the slope, Park (who had started to really stroke the ball around) put together the best move of the match. Knowelden held possession well in midfield, delaying his pass to allow Carl Chaney to storm forward from right back. He released his pass at the perfect moment and Chaney matched it with his cross. Right along the difficult to defend channel at the edge of the six yard box, neither ‘keeper nor defenders were able to cut it out. Joe Cheesman at the back stick couldn’t miss, and despite scuffing his shot horribly, he got his second to put Worcester Park back in front – before celebrating like Tardelli in the 1982 World Cup Final.
4-3 the score and still half an hour to play, I was beginning to suffer from repetitive strain disorder from all my note taking. Both ‘keepers made some great saves, with Palmer showing fantastic reflexes to save at his near post from a left footed drive, before Lusty tipped over well from Harrison Deacon at the other end.
However, a game like this could never be satisfied with only seven goals, so it was no surprise when Cheesman brought up his hat trick on 79 minutes. A teasing cross from his brother Tom found “Cheese” in the middle of the box, and (as he had all day) he dominated in the air, to head home.
Worcester Park were unable to maintain their two goal lead, and Joe Pantony got a goal his performance deserved on 81 minutes when he clipped away a neat finish after racing onto a through ball. That would be the highlight of Pantony’s day, however, when he was bafflingly sent off with five minutes remaining. Awarded his second yellow for not-even-God-knows what, he took his place on the sideline as confused as the rest of us. This was merely the pantomime highlight of a very bizarre day for the team of officials, particularly as an even tempered match resulted in 427 yellows from a referee who delivered more cards than moonpig.
The Wash Up
So, full time and a 5-4 thriller with the visitors ending up a man light. The game really could have swung either way, but Worcester Park will be delighted that it went to them. Creditable performances by both teams resulted in a thoroughly enjoyable match, but I should highlight a couple of standout individuals.
But, before I get to the good stuff, in my unceasing quest to identify sporters of top knots I stumbled across this from substitute Ashley Noble – a bleached blonde top knot. The only other barnet on show as bad was the ref’s “rejected from a 70s Brut commercial for being too cliched” curly mullet.
Both Cheesman brothers gave the Eversley & California defenders a torrid time, and it is easy to see how Deacon has already scored seven this season. He constantly harries the opposition and chases down more lost causes than a sailor on a run ashore. On the other side, despite conceding five, I was impressed by Lusty in goal. It’s difficult to blame him on any of the goals, and his distribution was impressive, especially his willingness to throw to get the game moving quickly. Also, the name Charlie Lusty firmly belongs in a dodgy 80s porn film, so mega credit for that.
However, star of the show and heading home with the match ball (as long as he returns it at training midweek) is Joe Cheesman. His hat trick was appropriate reward for his efforts where he won every long or loose ball towards him all match. In honesty, he could have had five, and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that he breaks the thirty goal barrier again this season.
Worcester Park is a great little club and manager Gary Taylor has put together a solid squad. I’ll certainly by visiting again this season, and if you live in the area so should you – particularly if you have a spare floodlight or four.
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