Arnudel v Sholing
Mill Road / Friendly / 25th July 2015
“However, it’s sometimes more fun when a plan quickly falls apart.” – Matt Harrison – taken from Lost in…Fulwood – 20th July 2015.
Yes, those were my words just 9 days ago regarding Stone Dominoes FC’s last-minute Saturday abandonment and me and Gibbo’s spontaneous trip to Fulwood in Preston that ensued from it. Fulwood was fun, so, in hindsight, we were quite happy with the postponement. However, those words are beginning to look remarkably prophetic now looking back on the last few days I’ve spent in Sussex.
The itinerary for my West Sussex/Kent football adventure had been in place since the end of May and read as follows: Littlehampton Town v Westfield – 23rd July; Horsham YMCA v Burgess Hill Town U21 – 24th July; and then Maidstone v Crawley – 25th July. Perfect. The plan remained that way, until 3 days before I set off for the south coast.
Firstly, we still attended the first fixture, but it was moved from Littlehampton’s ground to Worthing United’s ground (which turned out much to our liking really) and then the next day Horsham YMCA’s game was called off about 2 hours before kick-off and so we dashed from Horsham to Worthing FC U18 v Crystal Palace U18. Surely, nothing could go wrong regarding our 3rd planned trip of the week – our Saturday trip to Maidstone to watch the mighty Crawley? Of, course it would…Crawley cancelled the friendly just days before. Cheers for that Crawley. Let’s re-assemble that drawing board…again!
Actually, I take that annoyance back Crawley. My attempts to discover a new destination for Saturday to replace Maidstone brought me to eventually discovering the town of Arundel and Arundel Town FC. And I was in love with the place immediately. It’ll become clear why soon. To Arundel!
The night before, post that spontaneous trip (another one) to Worthing FC, had seen me stay at Horley Travelodge. Now it was back to a town full of happy memories, Crawley (THAT MK Dons game!), throwing my bag in the hotel next to the station and then onwards to Arundel.
I’d met up with Crawley fan Laura on the train to Arundel and then we were joined by Craig at Horsham. He was without Paddy today (his trusty Fiat Panda if you’ve been unfortunate to miss the previous two blogs) so he could enjoy a few Saturday drinks, as we had a night out in Crawley planned for later. My idea actually, but don’t ask me why.
I felt compelled to put on a Lord of the Rings style voice every time I said the word ‘Arundel’ (basically, roll the ‘r’ and exaggerate the final syllable), but as the train rolled into Arundel, it did feel a bit like one of the nice parts of Middle Earth – like the Shire. I say ‘into Arundel’, but the train station was positioned just a slight distance outside the town itself. This did however present us with great views of the whole town, the cathedral and the town’s hill-dominating castle.
Arundel sits just north of the coast in the middle of West Sussex and on the River Arun. I had spent a mere two days in Sussex – West Sussex to be precise – and I claim to be no expert on the area, but I’d be surprised if you can find a nicer, more picturesque town in the area than this. It was exactly what I was hoping for.
We headed into town and the town centre was equally charming with its quaint shops, coffee shops and pubs leading up a rather daunting hill (and that’s from a Valleys boy) to the huge castle walls. But enough of this scenery-ogling, I had learned in the morning that we only had until 2pm until the football kicked off and it was already getting past midday. Pub!
We wandered the small town, before spotting two pubs on the same street. Of course, my Swansea links meant we had to go in the The Swan, but to get there I had to practically drag Craig and Laura away from going into the admittedly brilliantly named ‘Fudge Pantry’. Beer first please.
Not much to report in the fairly bland Swan pub, as I had another Sussex ale (meh) and Craig and Laura had some fancy cider (also ‘meh’). To be honest, I think both of their hearts were still firmly set on the Fudge Pantry, which we could still see across the road, so across the road we went so Craig could purchase some fudge. I’m not a fudge-hater, but it doesn’t excite me either, much to Craig’s disgust as he went into a rhetoric about the joys of fudge; even the lady who worked behind the counter stirring fudge said that Craig’s passion for fudge made him a better salesperson than her. Maybe a career in fudge beckons for young Bratt.
Next and final stop on the pub crawl through Arundel town – as there only seemed to be two pubs open that we could see – was the Red Lion; predictably, I reeled off that famous fact that ‘Red Lion’ is most common pub name in the UK, although I still believe I’ve seen far, far more ‘Railways’ than ‘Red Lions’. The pub was once again one of those fairly bland, nicey-nicey pubs, but I did appreciate the huge model red dragon on the wall next to where we had coincidentally chosen to sit.
Post-Red Lion, we headed up the hill to see what else was on offer: another fudge shop of course – we didn’t go in this time. The town looked pretty from up the hill – as it did in every part of town it seemed – but instead of exploring further we went in search of Arundel FC. We were fairly certain we knew where we would find the ground and that was largely down to the location being one of the main reasons I had wanted to come here so much in the first place: sitting below the castle.
The images I had seen of Arundel FC’s ground with Arundel Castle backdropping it looked brilliant and that was the chief selling point in getting me here, so as we headed past the tourists queuing for the castle, we soon found a little entrance declaring itself to be Arundel FC. Photos were posed for by the sign, but more worrying was the pair of purple Next boxers we found hanging from it. We didn’t want to know the story behind them.
For a measly £3 we had entrance for two games today: the main event would be Arundel v Sholing at 2pm, but, if we so desired, we could also hang around and watch another Arundel XI take on a Petersfield Town youth team at 4.30pm. 9/10 times I’d have done both games, but we all decided to see how we felt later in the day – we had a big night out in Crawley ahead of us to get ready for of course.
Arundel FC currently play in the Southern Combination Football League Premier Division (Step 5), although they spent the majority of their existence playing in the West Sussex Football League. The club were formed in 1899 and they undoubtedly have one of my favourite nicknames in football: The Mullets. I was really hoping this was because some form of rock legend like Jon Bon Jovi or David Bowie had featured for the club once, but, sadly, the reality is much duller: the town is renowned for mullet fishing apparently. Oh well, still a cool nickname.
It was a nice day in Arundel and this lightened up the wonderfully picturesque ground perfectly. Before we went exploring the nooks and crannies of Mill Road, we headed to the club bar as we still had over half hour until kick-off. The clubhouse is found in the near corner as you enter and it is a fairly sizable one too with a large bar and sofas scattered about the place. I was even tempted to buy a Arundel FC scarf today as 1) I thought it’d be a nice memento of my Sussex tour 2) I noticed the other day that my scarf collection is far too blue and white for a Swansea fan and I needed to redden things up a bit. Like the majority of scarves at football grounds, it would set me back £10, so I said I’d decide half-time. I never did buy one – a decision I regret now, as I did sort of fall in love with Arundel. And here’s why.
I made a very bold statement at the time and as I write this a few days later I’m going to stick by it: Mill Road is in my Top 5 non-league grounds that I’ve been to…possibly top 3. It really is awesome. It’s fairly basic, but there is something really special about it. Down the one side of the pitch is a fairly small seating stand with the food hut a few yards to the left of it. On the opposite side of the pitch is a very small sheltered standing area, but in regards of structures, along with the club bar and changing rooms, that’s it. So what makes the place so great? Undoubtedly, the awesome presence of Arundel Castle looming over the ground and on a sunny day like today the whole place just looked awesome.
We headed to the food hut, where Laura and Craig were buying food whilst I continued to gawk at the ground. Then, I tried to save the life of a Sholing fan who was walking around the ground towards us and not noticing that there was a slow-moving car looming behind him. “Behind you!” I shouted in true Panto style, but, just like Panto, the man thought I was simply lampooning him. Eventually he noticed. In his defence, I’m not used to seeing cars driving around half the pitch to reach the car park either – especially down such narrow driveways.
As I took in the scenery, the pleasant atmosphere was ruined by someone shouting loudly behind me. It seems, like me sometimes, Craig doesn’t know how to control the volume of his voice at times and he rambled on very loudly at the food hut about the lack of cheese on his burger. It caused quite a commotion and he made it very clear for most of the first half that he was appalled with his burger’s shortage of cheese.
Eventually, we took our seats in the stand for the opening exchanges between Arundel FC and their Wessex League opponents, Sholing – the winners of the FA Vase in 2014. It was great to see quite a lot of Sholing fans in attendance today too – most sitting in the stand with us. There wasn’t too much for them to cheer though.
I was impressed with Arundel, who seemed to take every opportunity to get the ball out wide to their pacey wingers – a tactic that was causing Sholing lots of problems in the opening minutes.
The home team were very much dominating, but also was my desire to have another beer, so off I plodded to buy myself another pint, whilst Craig also went to the toilet leaving Laura to watch the game for us. I must have been in the bar a matter of 30 seconds (great service from the friendly barmaid) before me and Craig emerged from the clubhouse to see Sholing taking kick-off. We guessed we had missed a goal, but we thought we’d double-check with our pitchside reporter Laura.
“So we’ve missed a goal then Laura?”
“Have you? Has there been a goal?”
Clearly, the game had done little to enthrall Laura, as she missed the goal too and confirmation of the goal was left to a Sholing fan who told me that “Your lot scored.” The Mullets were now ‘my lot’ apparently and I was now a Arundel fan it seemed. I’m not sure what made him think that, but I really should have bought that scarf.
It was now time for my usual lap of the ground and to get some photos of the idyllic castle backdrop. Instead we ended up being distracted when Craig found a football behind the goal, as well as an already neatly set up mini-football pitch with goals. Well, it’d be rude not to. And so ensued the real game of the weekend: Harrison v Bratt, one-on-one behind the goals of Arundel FC’s pitch. It was a quite scrappy game, but undoubtedly the main outstanding piece of football of the whole 3 days of West Sussex football came from the Welshman Harrison. Watch below as Harrison tackles Bratt with an audacious 360 pirouette tackle. Just beautiful stuff.
(Note: it’s quite sad that the match report for Harrison v Bratt was probably more detailed than my one from the night before between Worthing U18 and Crystal Palace U18, where I talked more about red astroturf and a seagull on the pitch than football).
Sholing pushed for an equaliser, but were getting outdone by the excellent Sam Marsden in the Arundel goal, who even ‘did a Neuer’ and came out of his box to clear one surge forward with a diving header. Audacious stuff. Marsden really was brilliant and denied Sholing anyway he could to keep the score at 1-0 to the home team.
Half-time: Arundel 1 – 0 Sholing.
I headed back to the bar and still snubbed the purchase of a scarf (what a tight arse!) before we headed outside to enjoy the sun on the small white patio chairs outside the clubhouse.
It wasn’t even that the game was that bad, but the second half felt like the longest half of football I can remember in a long time. At one point, I was almost starting to think we had blinked and missed the second game of the day kick-off. At least I had found some sort of plastic pole that I could use as a leaning pole; it was not a pimp stick, as Laura suggested! Although I do look a slight bit pimp-ish in that photo below. Like a pimp on his way to play golf.
Sholing were the better team in the second half, but were not taking any of the few chances they were creating. The game had definitely petered out thanks to the barrage of second half substitutions. There was more action occuring on the sidelines by now, as the last half of my pint fell over and I collapsed to the floor in a distraught heap, much to the concern of some spectators nearby. I was inconsolable for a good two minutes, before I heard the final whistle blow and decided to make a move.
Full-time: Arundel 1 – 0 Sholing.
The second half had taken it out of us and so we opted not to bother with the second game and instead head back to good old Crawley. We headed back over the River Arun and towards the train station, stopping in the White Hart pub on the route back. Once again, this pub was similar to the others in Arundel – nothing wrong with the place, but not quite as ‘traditional’ for my simple Valleys boy tastes.
So, that drew an end to our day in Arundel – a lovely, little town and well worth a visit, but it was the football ground of the town, which truly won my heart. A true non-league gem. There was still time for us to throw out a rendition of ‘The Littlehampton Town Anthem’ (long story explained in the Worthing United blog) before we hopped on the train and back to Crawley.
And that was the end of my West Sussex tour. Once again, the southern tour was great fun and I’m fairly sure I’ll do something similar down south again next preseason. The trip was finished off with a great night out in Crawley and much persfliage (the word I learned that day – it means ‘light bantering’), before I spent the next day drinking my way through Portsmouth’s Gumwharf Quays before boarding my train back to the Valleys.
John ‘Hannibal’ Smith of The A-Team would be disgusted with the amount of times my plans ‘haven’t come together’ so far this preseason, but I’ll tell you what John, it’s going well for me so far.
Highlights: very pleasant town (especially if you like fudge), amazing ground with superb backdrop, good club bar, kickabout behind the goals.
Low Points: few dull pubs, Craig told me to put ‘lack of cheese’ on cheesy chips.
See all my photos from Arundel and Mill Road here.