They call it the magic of the FA Cup but trying to round up the usual suspects for a grand day out was more of a challenge than usual. It was like the okey-cokey, just as one person confirmed, another one dropped out. As each person dropped out, the rendezvous point and meeting time changed. We could not tempt Trainspotter John and the Ripponden Shayman was washing his hair. The Clayton Shayman was celebrating his wedding anniversary for the third time this calendar year; does he not realise that we keep a spreadsheet of excuses!
Scrawly rain, car headlamps and leaden skies, it never seemed to get light on our 226-mile journey south. Once again we avoided our favourite breakfast stop, on balance it’s still too soon after being chased around the car park with the bill that Trainspotter still insists he paid… Traffic was unexpectedly light as we rolled up to our usual parking space near the ground down a muddy puddle filled side street just after lunch time.
The locals outside the ground were great as we waited at the turnstiles in the drizzle. Everyone was up for a chat, full of beans about their team’s resurgence, but also honest enough to say they’d scrapped a good number of their results this season. We met Uncle Albert of Fools and Horses fame, a colourful guy with a cracking white beard and enough stories to keep you entertained for hours. He was a keen Ebbsfleet fan who was also selling poppies and before we parted with him, he purchased four of our Halifax Town ‘Never Forgotten’ badges and we offered him a spare Halifax Town scarf if he met us after the game at the car.
Ebbsfleet United’s Stonebridge Road ground hasn’t changed since our last visit, the only exception being a small plaque fixed to the old wooden stand midway between the penalty area and halfway line. It reads ‘Nathan Clarke scored from here’ and is dated August 2019. The rest of the old stand has some great character with multiple pillars, seats that move slightly as people walk up and down the wooden steps, and a standing area directly in front. Behind one goal are temporary seats under the old, covered terrace, and at the other end is an open terrace dominated by a pylon ready to carry cables across the nearby River Thames. The main stand is modern, only a few years old and part of the master plan to revamp the entire stadium.
The first half was entertaining, and without segregation we sat amongst the home fans and those stood on the terrace below. The rain was blowing in on the wind, the floodlights were on, and it was in the words of Tesco Pete ‘a filthy day’. The locals cheered ecstatically when they took the lead through a deflected shot, and we soon caught their attention cheering on a great equaliser. Their chatter then changed to just how good our team was compared to theirs. A booking for Senior, right in front of us, got everyone in the stand shouting for different reasons. It looked like a great tackle, but the referee seemed to think otherwise. Other than that, the Shaymen looked comfortable at half time.
The second half was all Ebbsfleet, they scored following a disputed corner at the far end, all the Town players were complaining about the decision to the referee before the corner was taken and much more after Fleet scored. A second yellow for Senior reduced the Shaymen to 10 men soon after, much to the delight of the locals. The 80 or so travelling Shaymen, many stood on the open terrace, did their best to encourage the team, but Ebbsfleet held firm.
Heading back to the car, the locals wished us well despite lots of banter in the stand during the game. We couldn’t spot Uncle Albert to give him his Halifax Town scarf, that will have to wait until we meet again. Tesco Pete was incandescent with the result, pointing to the decisions of the officials and what that means to our season. It was a long drive home, but we never set off to the away game with the expectation of winning, it just makes it more frustrating when decisions change its course. I suppose it’s all part of the magic of the FA Cup?!
Next up, and it’s a midweek trip to Solihull, I wonder who’s up for this one? C’mon Shaymen!
Miles on the road 3559, Goals on the road 10.
Read more posts by Rob Brown