The first day of the football season is always special; hopes, dreams, new signings, formations, new shirts and an exciting new manager. The 99 days since our last league game at Fylde passed by in a flash and we were all raring to go. Well almost all, we had the pleasure of Trainspotter John who within 5 minutes of setting off had done his best to wear out his welcome. “It doesn’t matter what the score is, it’s just a good day out” he announced as he spilt his bag of jelly babies all over the back seat of the car. With a prior booking for a visit to Tottenham’s new ground on Sunday and a hotel booked for Saturday night, we had no choice other than to take John and leave the poor old Navigator thumbing a lift. You could have cut the tension with a knife and we’d only just reached the M62!
The 236 mile journey south passed by without too much incident; weather was bright and warm, the traffic was quiet and breakfast was had at our usual Northamptonshire location where Trainspotter took advantage of the “drink as much tea and coffee as you like for £2.50” offer. “I’ve got pockets full of quality coffee sachets and tea bags” he declared as we reached the M25. “I’m not sure what the hotel is like tonight so I didn’t want to take any chances.” Based on the look from Greetland Shayman it was lucky Tesco Pete had reluctantly agreed to share a room with him overnight.
With an admission price of £17 Ebbsfleet United’s Stonebridge Ground is a mixture of modern and traditional facilities. Through the narrow turnstiles you arrive at the back of the old corrugated iron clad terrace still partly used with around 10 rows of temporary style seating. There’s a welcoming clubhouse, a food kiosk and table with match day programmes and halftime draw tickets for sale. Without segregation we could sit in the new main stand, opened last year with new changing rooms, hospitality areas and access down the full length of the pitch. The old main stand sits astride the halfway line with several wooden pillars and has a back drop of heavy industry along the banks of Thames. At the far end is a large open terrace with shiny new barriers to lean on. The whole end is dominated by an electricity pylon just behind the ground.
With a challenge of getting a selfie with an opposition player for each away game, we called Ebbsfleet’s flamboyant goal keeper Nathan Ashmore across during his warm up to join us (and any other travelling Shaymen we could find) for a photo. He’s a right character and obliged without question, we reminded him of his 4 clean sheets against us in recent seasons and a he promised to try and make it 5!
With 10 minutes of the game gone, it was full excitement; Ebbsfleet’s captain had been sent off for a clear trip, Nathan Ashmore had conceded his first goal against the Shaymen in comical fashion whilst we found ourselves sitting rather too close to the boisterous and unhappy home fans. Late in the half the home fans were ecstatic with an unlikely equaliser even though the Shaymen had dominated the game to that point. Half time was spent chatting to the Real Ale Brigade getting their thoughts on prospects for the season and the next 45 minutes. Hopes are genuinely high for a top half finish and even a playoff place. As for the second half, I must have asked 20 people but only one gave me the correct final score – good shout that Kit!
To their credit, the first 20 minutes of the second half were dominated by Ebbsfleet. There were few chances at our end of the ground and thoughts turned to prospect of a draw or even worse, after all, we lost 4-0 at the same location last season. The game was settled soon after with a Nail Maher goal from the edge of the box, moments later another goal scored by Jack Earing and celebrated amongst some of the 100 or so travelling Shaymen behind the goal. With moments to go and a long ball was hit forward from a free kick, it took ages to travel, high in the air but moment by moment it got closer and closer to the goal. Nathan Ashmore was soon back peddling, as the ball continued on its path….Goal! Both the ball and Ashmore ended up in the back of the net. “Bet he couldn’t so that again!’ said Tesco Pete.
As we left the ground we must have been congratulated and wished a safe journey home by at least 20 different groups of Ebbsfleet fans. We even bumped into a Glaswegian Ebbsfleet fan we met last season. He as full of praise for the way the Shaymen played and felt sure we’d do well this season. It’s a really welcoming club and it’s unusual to meet so many people wishing us well after a heavy defeat.
The rest of the weekend was nowhere near as exciting, Tottenham’s new ground was impressive but the experience was over complicated and the game was turgid. It was like watching theatre; you had a good view but were sitting miles away from the pitch. Nothing anyone shouted would ever be heard. Give me non-league football any day of the week. Watching the Shaymen is far more engaging and exciting.
Next up we’re off to Wrexham, passports ready and I’m sure we’ll have another goal disallowed there, we always do.
Total goals on the road 4, total miles 472 – C’mon Shaymen!
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