Tuesday, 3 April 2007

02/04/2007 - Fisher Athletic 3 Braintree Town 0

This should have been an ideal trip. A six-mile journey from the office in Fulham to Dulwich, a double tick as both Conference South Fisher and Ryman South Dulwich Hamlet share this Champion Hill ground and a reacquaintance with The Fish, a team which I had a bit of a thing for in the 1980s when I visited the Surrey Docks stadium a couple of times.

But it didn't quite go to plan.

I set off from Fulham at about 6pm, and was safely in the car park of the Sainsbury's superstore which sits adjacent to the Dulwich Hamlet ground at around 6.45... 45 minutes to do six miles, that's London rush hour traffic for you.

Still that left me with an hour before kick off to take in the ambience of a night on Champion Hill. The ground is well developed with a first class grandstand on one side and a functional stand on the far side, while outside there are sweeping views from one of London's high spots (vertically-speaking).

When I arrived Braintree were out on the pitch warming up while Iron supremo George Borg stalked around the proceedings keeping an eye on his side.

I took some photos and then ventured up to the bar to sample a quick Guinness before the match kicked off and that's when it occured to me that I had more than a touch of emotional attachment to this game. I'd brought the 'lucky' Braintree hat, and found myself gravitating to the Braintree fans standing behind the Fisher goal, and frankly was quite anxious for a Braintree win.

And with the emotional involvement comes the irrationality of fandom. The ebb and flow of the game becomes a rollercoaster of optimism and anxiety. The outcome of refereeing decisions lose the indifference of impartiality. Every challenge is felt, every misplaced pass vexes and the tauntings of the opposition fans become a personal attack on your psyche.

Added to that, when you let one in just before half time you get the right hump.

Unfortunately this is exactly what happened in a first half which was played at a frantic pace, and was arguably the best quality match I have seen this year.

Braintree were working hard but lacked that killer edge in the last third. Any half chances that were available to Hawes, Brayley and Ofori were fluffed, muffed or offside.

Fisher, particularly their back four, were working even harder and their passing was crisper.

In the 42nd minute, it was another one of those times when you could see an inevitable goal unfolding in front of you, only in this game Braintree were on the wrong end, as Fisher's Gavin Tomlin drilled home from close range after a bit of penalty box pin-ball.

Borg was understandably annoyed to be going in 1-0 down and he sent the Iron out early for the second half. Unfortunately he forgot to tell them to start playing early in the second half and after 26 seconds of the restart Tomlin found himself through on the right hand side with just Nick Morgan to beat, which he did with applomb.

I was rueing my emotional attachment at this point but in the spirit of every club I have ever followed, I started to pass from denial to acceptance. You just can't win them all. The lucky hat will need to be charged with some more mojo.

The Iron were looking bemused, like a team unfamiliar with being outplayed, but every Fisher pass was well placed, every challenge was crisp and the loose balls were all bouncing to the black and white shirts.

But the visitors had a couple of chances to get back in the game the best arguably when Ofori's short range shot was blocked by the Fisher goalkeeper, and two penalty appeals, one which was very handball-ish and the other a push on James Baker as he lined up to shoot.

But still the Fish dominated and on 74 minutes a home corner was beautifully volleyed home by Anthony Sinclair.

So that left 16-long minutes as Braintree toiled in vain knowing that there was no way back against the dominant homesters, while the Iron faithful, me included, just stood there and endured.

Still like I said, a double tick, and just over an hour to get home from Dulwich to Braintree and I recognised and had a quick chat with Jon Weaver, the author of Grounds of Rural/Metropolitan Essex, but overall a night flattened by the result.