Our Margate Man in the Stands gives his view of the Margate vs Guildford match
There was a time in my life when I would have thought the prospect of spending a sunny Saturday, above 20 degree, July afternoon watching lower league football was about as appealing as spending a night at Nigel Farage’s house. But to quote our supposed leader in chief, “ALAS”, times have changed.
As a teenager I cursed the fact that the nearest football of a high-ish quality meant spending an hour on the train going to see Andy Hessenthaler’s lads at Gillingham. However in-between the lockdowns last year I supported the mantra Jeff Sterling and other pundits were pumping out into the media ‘support your local club or lose your local club’. I didn’t expect much, but I loved the lower-league fan experience so much so that now I consider living in Kent to be a blessing, as it’s littered with lower-league football clubs. Anyway during peak Euro hype on a drunken afternoon somewhere between Muller dragging that shot wide and Kane’s one-two with Kasper Schmeichel I purchased a season ticket to Margate FC.
Let me justify the boozy decision to become a season ticket holder, based on the events of yesterday, July 17. I spent six quid to sacrifice a sunny afternoon that could have no doubt been wasted pleasantly on the busy beach or in a packed pub, on a pre- season friendly against the giant Guildford City FC at Hartsdown Park (HDP).
One of the best things about non-league in comparison to the Premier League is being able to easily access a pint, that comes in the form of a visit to the Margate club house where you’ll be reminded to put on your mask on entry, then a short one way system leads to the bar where you’ll be greeted by two women who will accommodate an affordable booze order which could include Heineken, Dark Fruits and lovely local Gadds.
Leaving the clubhouse with a couple of handfuls of booze you could have been easily fooled by the blue skies and green grass (albeit artificial) that you were watching Benidorm FC in a pre-season. That idealist image of being on the continent was soon bought back down to earth when a chap walked in along the terraces with a cowboy-like hat to be greeted with jibes from his mates of ‘oh we’re in a western are we,’ and ‘football at 3 barn dance at 7 is it?’ And if that top-tier English banter didn’t ruin the Mediterranean-mirage you definitely knew you weren’t in Benidorm when the beat of the drum was followed by the siren- like cry of ‘comeeeeeeeee on Margateeeeeeeee’. The legendary lady with the drum of Hartsdown had spoken and come on Margate did, the lads lined up. The ref blows his whistle. We’re off. Football, live football.
It’s an experimental line up from Margate manager Jay Saunders, as it no doubt ought to be as Margate FC have bought more attacking players to the town in the close season than the Turner Contemporary has bought hipsters. Speaking of, another reason lower league football is such a joy is the audience, the range of fans is remarkable from grey haired, red- faced, drum-banging ultras to new age Margate men and women. With their neatly fashioned facial hair and pastel colour clothing they say things like “you moved for the football right? The beach was just a bonus yahhh?”
The diehard Margate fans were obviously here way before The Libertines sponsored the team, they were here on wet November Tuesday nights long before there were art galleries, coffee shops and yoga studios on every street in a town now considered the coolest in all the land. Long before ‘Time for Heroes’ blazed out over the PA speaker system these noble men and the woman of the drum were here cheering on the boys in blue and bizarrely I really respect that.
The opponents were as always in red, one hundred percent of all the games I’ve attended at Margate it’s a case of blues vs reds. It’s like that 2006/2007 season when Liverpool played Chelsea every week, it’s Jose vs Rafa for the rest of time at HDP.
Guildford were captained by their keeper, who was a fantastic communicator, being so close to the action you can hear almost everything the players shout at each other, and Guildford were being directed by their goalkeeper. Among the instructions the keeper bellowed out from his box were the classics ‘win the second ball’, ‘wake up’ and ’time and deliver’, ‘time and deliver’ which naturally led one to start humming Adam and the Ants.
Despite early pressure, neat and tidy attacking football from the blues, it was the reds that struck first, in a very effective attacking move that resulted in a cross that was met with a header that Clive Tyldesley would describe as ‘textbook’. A cloak of silence from the blue faithful and a roar from the travelling red fans, and once that roar had dulled an announcement from the downtrodden announcer “and the goal scorer for Guildford City NATHANIEL MENSAH’ which was met by the Margate fans with fed up exhales of air, a chorus of tuts and one quip of ‘Mensah pfft sounds like a bloody vaccine’.
The antidote was on the way through Jake Embery after a sloppy clearance and a keeper slip that made it impossible for the Margate striker to miss. Level at one a piece, another slip from Guildford’s otherwise reliable number 5 resulted in some messy defending and half a shirt pull which gave Margate a penalty. Embery full of confidence from his first stepped up in front of the sun soaked Margate fans behind the goal and he…. Well he followed the trend of recent penalty woe and dragged it wide.
Half time whistle blows and that means times to move, another lower league quirk is you’re not assigned an area or confined to a seat! No, you can roam freely around the ground and follow the action as you see fit. At half time that action came in the form of a child’s birthday party, as part of Margate FC birthday party package you get to take penalties on the pitch. More penalties – just what we all need.
A quick refill on the pints at the outdoor beer cart where you can overhear transfer news and gossip, forget the BBC’s red button or teletext (for older readers) the beer cart is the lower-league’s ‘Gossip Column’. Turns out Margate’s own Jordan Pickford aka Bailey Voss has gone to Billericay, a revelation that was greeted with a few non-publishable words by the fans.
The second half in terms of football was drab to say the very least, but did allow me to indulge in ‘budget lookalikes’ where I scan opposition in hope of finding a resemblance to more famous footballers. Number 6 for example it was decided was a young Steve McManmon, Number 10 from behind could pass as a lower-league Leroy Sane.
Second half came alive with a couple of substitutions, and this is a sentence that I’d never thought I’d write, including the introduction of champions league winner Ben Greenhalgh. Well sort of Champions League winner, Greenhalgh is a name you may recognise if you ever watched Sky Sports reality show ‘Football’s Next Star’ where Ben fought off 20,000 other entries to win a six-month professional contract, with Jose Mourinho’s Inter Milan the very same year that Inter Milan won the Champions League. Where else can you spend six quid and see a champion’s league winner? Greenhalgh looked absolutely brilliant when he came on, finding space and threading balls to the tricky wingers.
It was this exact type move that led to Margate’s marvellous winning goal, which I’m pretty sure the announcer said was scored by ‘Charlie Hatton’ but there’s no such player on the club website and I was a few pints in so apologies.