Competitive football finally kicked off on Tuesday evening as the FA Cup rolled into town and for me in particular into Tunbridge Wells FC and the Culverden Stadium. I have an association with the Wells going back a number of years, my youngest brother had a spell playing for a few years back in the early 2000’s and my late father was the club shop manager and programme editor until his death in 2011.
He missed out on the famous run to the FA Vase final in 2013 where they finished as runners-up which of course saw pop-up shops and everything selling merchandise, he would have loved to have seen what he had started blossoming into something special around that time.
Back to the present day and my reason for heading up to Kent was not only to catch up with a couple of very good friends of mine but also to see the gaffer Richard Styles who was good enough to take a little time to do an interview for this blog during lockdown, as were a few others managers, one physio and one club chairman.
As these guys (and Ally) have supported me during that period, I feel it only fair to pop along and support their club and them for a day at least in return. As it is with the current restrictions the home side are using the clubhouse as their changing room so that beer went out the window! Needless to say, I will be back sometime this season, I grew up around that area during my childhood so have many friends that way.
As per my games last week, everything was Covid-safe, and I was just as fine there as at East Preston last week and the 300-maximum attendance can easily be accommodated in that stadium. Unfortunately, it appeared someone forgot between Saturday and kick off time that the pitch needed marking! A frantic effort finally saw the game kick off at 20.05, some 20 minutes later.
I’m really grateful I can watch live football again whatever level it is and wherever it is, I’ve found it more invigorating and taking in every minute, we know how much we hated not being able to watch a single moment of any game in the last few months, not one game will I take for granted this season, it can be snatched away in an instance.
Kicking up the Culverden hill, Wells certainly started the brighter of the two sides and should have been two goals in front before Erith had a sight of the hosts penalty box, two headers both missing the target when easier to score. The visitors then came into the game and with pace up front started to pull the Wells centre halves around the pitch forcing the Wells custodian into a couple of saves with his legs to leave the scoreline goalless at half time, probably a fair reflection.
The first half plan from Styles and his staff was to get the ball wide to both wingers, Regan Corke and Euan Sahadow, they delivered some beautiful balls into the box but a lack of bodies getting into the area the reason why the hosts suffered a blank first half scoreline.
The second half lacked a bit of excitement, flair and entertainment, chances were at a premium with both defences on top marshalling strikers and cutting off supply lines, scrappiness creping in as a first competitive game in months with such intensity and prize money on the line, tiredness came next as the game evolved into a counter attacking mission for both.
There were still a couple of chances for both sides, Aaron Lee-Wharton pulling off a superb mid-flight save to keep Wells in the cup. Just as we were expecting the final whistle to go and heading straight to penalties, a penalty awarded for a handball, the ball having bounced off the thigh of an Erith defender and onto his hand and a chance for the West Kent outfit to take their place in the next round.
Up stepped Brett Ince to coolly send the ball into the net in the final minute and with stoppage time at a premium, Wells stood firm and now host another league rival in Beckenham Town who comfortably beat Mile Oak 4-0 on Wednesday evening, tie to played on Sat 12th September at Culverden Stadium once again.
A great result for Richard Styles, a nice birthday present for Dan Morrin and me a lucky omen? The only time I saw Styles’ team in action last season was ironically on 1st September and also in the FA Cup, history repeats itself, does that mean I need to be in attendance a week on Saturday? We’ll have to see………..