Worthing U18 v Crystal Palace U18
Woodside Road / Friendly / 24th July 2015
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” – Robert Frost – The Road Not Taken.
(I did a whole module on American poets in university, so bear with me for the pretentious opening quote from poetry – I’m a sucker for one of them though).
Our life is full of coming upon ‘crossroads’ – and I don’t just mean that irritating song Crossroads by the Blazing Squad. Important life decisions crop up all the time: do I ditch my dead-end job and go for that dream job I’ve always wanted? Do I relocate to try something completely different? Or the classic, do I go head over heart? Well, me and Craig found ourselves at a literal crossroads in Horsham, but the roads presented us with one of life’s great decisions: Worthing or Woking? The question was too tough for me and Craig to answer and in the end we didn’t even make the decision. Instead we put such a brain-scratcher down to fate (well, Twitter). But, how had we ended up at this crossroads in the first place?
Craig’s hometown is the West Sussex town of Horsham and that is where he had convinced me to go for my second fix of Sussex football on my ‘southern tour’; more specifically, the game pencilled in was Horsham YMCA v Burgess Hill Town U21 at Gorings Mead. I’d arrived in Horsham early Friday afternoon and roamed the rather pleasant town, enjoying some of the town’s drinking establishments (obviously Wetherspoons too) with Craig acting as tour guide. I then shot off back to my hotel in Horley near Gatwick airport, before heading back into Horsham for 5pm and ready to take in my Friday evening football fix.
Horsham had been lovely and I ended up in Black Jug which was also lovely, but one thing that definitely wasn’t lovely today was the weather. It had absolutely lashed it down all day and by now, with me not really knowing anything about Horsham’s football pitch, I was concerned that a match abandonment may be on the cards. I spent my time in the pub staring at my phone waiting for any news on Twitter, until eventually Horsham YMCA confirmed that the match was off, as Burgess Hill couldn’t raise a team due to travel issues following the bad weather (I read this as, ‘they don’t want to play in all this rain on a Friday night’). I was straight on the phone to Craig who was about to set off in Paddy (his Fiat Panda) to come meet me in Horsham. Now to consult those contingency plans we had stowed away.
“Woking. Let’s go to Woking if you fancy it?” was Craig’s plan, as he described how easy it was to get from our spot in Horsham to the Surrey town. My head was turned elsewhere though. Having spent the previous evening at Worthing United on the coast, I wanted to go back and visit the town’s other ground: Worthing FC and their Woodside Road home. I thought it would be a nice touch for the blog.
Last minute, Craig had decided to drive wherever, so I did say that it was totally up to him, as driver, where we went, yet he was being polite too and seeing me as a ‘guest’ in Sussex and letting me decide our destination. Our politeness towards each other was getting us nowhere. We debated Worthing or Woking as we drove through Horsham town centre, until we eventually arrived at the aforementioned crossroads: straight on for Worthing, right for Woking. A big life decision awaited us indeed. Worthing or Woking? One of life’s great battles. Then, Craig had a moment of inspiration and we parked the car in a lay by and sent this tweet:
We both sat there egging on someone to tweet for our favoured prospective destination, but we literally had mere seconds to wait for a response, before I let out a probably unnecessarily loud cheer. Thank you for friend of Lost Boyos Ellis Platten of the Away Days YouTube channel for tweeting emphatically:
My favoured choice had won out. Seconds later, two tweets came in saying ‘Woking’, but it was too late. We were off to Worthing. The main reason I wanted to go to Worthing was I felt that somewhere down the line I’d go to Conference club Woking, but Worthing was, dare I say, far more exotic. And as that Frost quote suggests, sometimes you get far more rewarded for the taking the road ‘far less travelled by’. In fairness, Lost Boyos seems to live by the ideology of that quote quite a lot these days.
Worthing was nearer to Horsham than Woking and me, Craig and Paddy soon rolled into Worthing, after I had taken up my DJ duties once again. I found all sorts of punk-pop bands from my mid-teen years on Craig’s playlist and so we were accompanied to Worthing by the likes of All American Rejects, Bowling For Soup and Sum 41 blaring out of Craig’s speakers.
Worthing FC’s ground is just down the road from West Worthing station, where me and Marc had alighted the day before to begin our Worthing pub crawl. For some reason, me and Marc had skipped the Downview pub off our crawl, despite it being literally across the road from the station and so I suggested to Craig that we go there for a prematch drink with the ground being two minutes away and kick-off now an hour away; of course, no alcohol for Lost Boyos chauffeur Craig again – he was saving himself for the third Sussex football trip the next day. Some rather average Sussex ale was drunk, before we decided to go brave the monsoon outside again and head to the Photronix Stadium – or Woodside Road as we’ll call it.
In fairness, the rain had subsided now and off we drove up the road to Worthing FC, which we found simply enough tucked snugly into a residential area. It had occurred to me en route that with this being such a late decision that I literally had no idea what to expect from Worthing FC’s ground having done no research. All I had to go on was the fact that Craig had said it had a 3G pitch; not usually a reason I’d want to visit a ground, but today that fact had helped slightly sway my desire to go to Worthing, as I was certain there’d be no chance of a match abandonment in the bad weather here. We headed through the gates and it was time to explore our second Worthing club in 2 days.
It’s fair to say that Worthing FC’s home is completely different to Worthing United’s home, but both are good in their own contrasting ways. United’s ground may win on rustic qualities, but it is blatantly obvious from the facilities that Worthing FC play higher up the leagues than their crosstown neighbours with FC playing in Isthmian League Division One South (Step 4 on the non-league ladder). Their ground consists of one large main stand on one side of the pitch with three smaller, standing shelters placed around the other sides of the ground. Undoubtedly, the feature which grabs your eyes and forces you to look on entering is the garish red astroturf which frames the artificial playing surface; I instantly thought of the way Hertha Berlin’s blue running track proudly frames their pitch with their famous colours in the Olympic Stadium (didn’t I compare Worthing United’s ground to the Maracana yesterday? I’ve got to stop comparing football grounds in Worthing to World Cup final stadiums). I’ve got to be honest though and say I did absolutely love the red astroturf, especially the tacky-red-carpet-esque part that headed down the players’ tunnel.
Worthing FC were formed in 1886 and became founder members of the West Sussex Football League 10 years later. The club absorbed Worthing Athletic in 1900 and moved into their home, what is now their current home Woodside Road, but was formerly known as the Sports Ground. The old Sports Ground closed in 1937 with the southern part becoming tennis courts and now a bowling green, whilst the northern section became the ground you see today.
Over the decades the ground began to be developed, but it’s the recent history which has seen a massive acceleration in the club’s development, thanks to their financial saviour: 22-year-old George Dowell. Worthing FC’s finances have been in bad shape in recent years, until it was unveiled that Dowell would become the majority shareholder at the club earlier this year. Dowell was in a car accident back in 2010 when he was 17 and this has left him in a wheelchair. Dowell used to play for Worthing and his compensation money has seen him fund the club extensively, with him dreaming of taking the club into the Conference South within in 5 years.
As well as the 3G pitch, there is no more apparent sign of this investment than the club bar we arrived in. It really is a brilliantly shiny and plush club bar and as good as anything you’ll find in non-league and above in some cases. I got myself a beer and we watched on from the club bar whilst Worthing U18 and tonight’s opponents, a Crystal Palace U18 team, warmed up on the artificial pitch.
We made for the shelter behind the near goals as the teams came out and the rain began to hammer down again. Don’t expect a match report here, as it was one of those games where I didn’t really pay that much attention, I’d being drinking for best part of 3 days and plus I’m writing this quite a few days later – the memory is hazy now.
I was actually quite impressed with how many Palace fans there were standing near us – fairplay to them for making the effort to come to this game (although, now I think about it, they may well have been Sussex-based Palace fans). One thing they would not have liked happening on the pitch was the cheeky pitch invader: a seagull – a symbol of their big rivals Brighton and Hove Albion. Some Palace fans took to jokingly verbally abusing the seagull, but he was unmoved, as he gracefully patrolled the penalty area for a good few minutes. Someone sign him up – he’s got good wing play…
The game was actually fairly entertaining (if I recall rightly) with Palace’s youngsters playing some nice football at times. Playing any sort of flowing passing football was always going to be difficult with even the 3G pitch becoming particularly rain-sodden. Every burst down the wing saw the turf flying up in the air behind the players.
When it did eventually dry slightly, me and Craig braved a walk around the more open parts of the ground. On our walk, we got chatting to a gentleman at the far end of the ground and this turned out to be Worthing fan Ron. He filled us in on all things about the club and genuinely seemed to be delighted that we had made an effort to come visit tonight. A very friendly guy and sort of guy who makes chatting about non-league football fun. He also told me that I had to go talk to the club’s newest investor, the previously mentioned George Dowell, who he pointed out over the opposite side of the ground. Apparently he would have loved to have known we were there, so I said I’d try introduce myself to him later.
Admittedly, I was less thrilled when Ron asked where we had come from. I told him to guess and he replied, “Well, somewhere up north.” I was not amused as my ‘losing-my-Welsh-accent anxiety’ was furthered more.
By the way, it was now 1-1 on the pitch. Can I recall how the goals were scored? Nope. I really do need to write more things down during the game. Don’t worry, I’ll text Craig now and ask him to summarise the goals….bear with me…one second…*receives text from Craig*….oh, he can’t remember either. And he was stone cold sober. Oh well. More award-winning match reporting from Lost Boyos.
Half-time: Worthing U18 v Crystal Palace U18.
Back to the bar we went to discuss what we had seen so far (it was still fresh in my memory then remember) and for some more ale for me.
For the second half, we went back under the shelter next to the food hut as Palace pushed to grab a goal. My standout performer of the game was the nippy Asian right-winger for Palace; well, I’m not sure if he was the best player on the pitch or whether I just liked his slightly odd running style (all running still involved turf flying up off the ground).
With the rain now stopping, we went and stood on the open terrace down one side of the pitch. The rainy conditions and setting sun had made for some intense orangey-red skies overhead. We both took this opportunity to take some pretentious Instagram photos of skies, when I began talking about how people seem to be able to create much cooler and far more ‘arty’ Instagram photos than me – including Craig. So thus ensued an Instagram masterclass on how to use Instagram and the various little tools on the app properly and how to make the sky above us looking particularly pretty. I think I got it in the end. Good teaching Craig lad.
The game ahead of us seemed to be heading for a 1-1 draw when Palace broke forward in the final minute and scored from close range. The celebrations were boisterous to say the least, as the Palace players ran around crazily. I’m glad to see that the Palace U18s take preseason triumphs at Worthing U18s seriously.
Full-time: Worthing U18 1 – 2 Crystal Palace.
Craig was in no hurry to get home, so he was kind enough to supervise me whilst I had one more beer. I did attempt to go speak to George Dowell, but it seemed he was a popular guy and so I didn’t want to interrupt his conversations. I would have told him though that the investment and work he and others have put into the club/ground is very impressive. I’m certain that this is a club very much on the rise.
Time to go back to Horsham and time for my final stint as DJ for the weekend (no Paddy the Panda for our trip to Arundel the next day). Me and Craig both agreed on the view that a different sort of tune is required for a night-time car journey compared to a daytime car journey. So our slightly more ambient tunes for the trip back to Horsham included classics like Travis’ Side and the epic The Opener by The Courteeners, before I ruined the ambience by smashing on S Club 7’s Bring It All Back (contrary to popular belief, the far superior tune to the largely more venerated hit of theirs, Reach).
After more musical singalongs, we arrived back into Horsham and Horsham train station. Once again, big up to Craig and his automobile-sidekick Paddy the Fiat Panda (Herbie ain’t got shit on him) for rescuing the trip fairly last-minute when Horsham YMCA’s game fell by the very wet wayside. Heroes.
Maybe Worthing United was more ‘my sort of ground’, but I’m a big fan of Worthing FC too; I think I was won over by the red turf around the pitch and their excellent bar. Now to get back to my hotel in Gatwick.
“The train driver hasn’t arrived,” I was told by one of the rail staff, as I boarded the train at Horsham station ready to return to Horley. Great. I only had to travel 15-20 minutes or so on the train, so this was a very disappointing turn of events. Fortunately, any chance of boredom was quickly eradicated, as I was joined by a Hungarian lady and then two lads who were off partying in Brighton. On hearing of the fact we had to wait for a while, one of the lads told us not to worry as it was his leaving-do and he had a bottle of Jack Daniels. From nowhere, he produced some plastic cups, a big bottle of JD and poured us some. I was content with this arrangement. Much crap was talked about and JD drunk by the time the train driver eventually showed up and we were underway.
It turned out that my new drinking partners were celebrating the one lad’s promotion to train manager of London Victoria station, as he had been promoted from running stations for Southern trains; he could see the funny side of there being a train/driver cock-up on the day he was calling it a day for Southern. The lads were more bemused though when the Hungarian woman disembarked the train by herself, as this prompted them to proclaim that they thought I was with her! “I thought that was a bit of a cold goodbye!” they stated. This then however prompted them to invite me to…well…we’ll just say to ‘party’ in Brighton with them. I declined and decided to stick to partying at the 24 hour bar at my Travelodge in Horley instead.
So, Woking, you will have to wait for another day. Fate and Twitter had decided for us. Regarding the split in the road referenced by Robert Frost, I was glad this time we took the less travelled one and ended up at Worthing FC.
Next stop on the 3 day Sussex football tour: Arundel FC.
Highlights: Horsham was nice, car journey singalongs, good setup at Worthing, awesome red astroturf frame, lovely club bar, decent game, free Jack Daniels to finish the night.
Low Points: last-minute change of plan, weather was shocking, not a great lover of 3G pitches.
See all my photos from our last minute trip to Worthing FC (and some photos of my early afternoon in Horsham) here.