Becoming St Ivian, part 5: Feeling like a fan

St Ives Town logoDespite having a season ticket, the fact I go to most St Ives Town games on my own means I haven’t really felt part of things.

While everyone I’ve spoken to is friendly, St Ives is the kind of town most people seem to have lived for at least three decades, rather than three months; everyone knows everyone.

Don’t get me wrong – I’ve been enjoying the games. In fact its nice to have the radio on and listen to the overblown drama of the Premier League while watching proper football; I often stroll around the pitch, watching from here and there, having a sit down every now and then. Mostly, its been a very peaceful experience (which is odd for football).

But in mid October the Saints played Potters Bar Town at home in a league game. It was on the back of two heavy league defeats on the bounce that had started to put the great start of the season in perspective. But Dunstable and Rugby were looking like contenders for the title, unlike Potters Bar who were seemingly more mid-table. As the table began to settle down, this looked like a truer test of where St Ives were in the great scheme of things.

Just one minute in, literally as I walked through the turnstiles, Potters Bar Town took the lead. My heart sank a little, as to their credit St Ives had (in my limited experience) the tendency to go blazing off for an equaliser – leaving big holes at the back. Worth a try, but at this new level it seemed to backfire more often than pay off. But attack like mad they did.

Ten minutes later, the saints equalised during a spell of pressure that simply had to result in a goal – and they kept it up for another 15 minutes until the second one went in. Panic over – this was going to be a rout! Yeah, because that’s how football goes…

It should’ve been more by half time, but wasn’t, and in the second half Potters Bar were immediately back into a better rhythm. As the minutes ticked by St Ives got deeper and deeper, which didn’t seem likely to end well after recent weeks. But despite time passing slower and slower, they held out.

About three hours later (or so it seemed), the final whistle blew. I was exhausted. I just stood there, breathing sighs of relief. They’d done it; they’d survived a real test of character against the kind of team they’d need to beat to stay in this league – and better still they’d done it when they were most likely low on confidence, especially at the back.

But for me it was equally significant; I’d really cared. For the first time I wandered home feeling like a fan. Next stop, the newsagent, to arrange to have The Non-League Paper delivered…

Becoming St Ivian, part 4: Hidden treasures and the road to Wem-ber-lee

Unfortunately a combination of crappy weather and other commitments have curtailed any further opportunities to explore the St Ives countryside. With the evenings starting to shorten and free weekends drying up, there will be precious few chances for decent exploring again this year. However, it’s amazing what you can find on your doorstep.

Our cute little ginger neighbour, coincidentally named George (see below), is about six or eight, or something – I have no idea, he’s a child anyway. He seems a nice little chap, but just after we moved in he said something very odd. We’d come back from the chip shop, which is about a 15 minute walk away (and not called George’s) and he was playing outside. “Have you been to George’s?” He said. Strange boy.

So it was with supreme embarrassment that, two months later, I decided to take a different route to the bus stop – and stumbled upon George’s Chip Shop, about five minutes from our house. Alongside a handy (when you know it’s there…) corner shop and a (far less useful) hairdressers.

You’ll be pleased to hear we have since eaten at George’s and it’s every bit as good as the further chippy, which is dead to us now (so fickle). But I digress. The point was, there was a bloody chip shop five minutes from our house and we didn’t know!

I think its mainly because, where we previously lived in the flat on a new estate in Cambridge, the building firm had clearly been told they needed to build absolutely no new facilities at all. And this has become common; new areas are just thrown up, with no provision made for lazy locals who want a bag of chips.

Now our nice house in St Ives was built in the 70s, probably under a Labour government, who understood that greasy food was what made this country great and that the working classes needed to be fed, godamnit! In fact I’m sure I remember a tax on people (mostly posh) who didn’t eat fish and chips on Fridays after work – I expect the tories scrapped it. It makes me go all misty eyed just thinking about those halycon days.

But the point is, when you see a big housing area now, you don’t expect there to be any hidden gems – like shops, or doctors, or schools, or green space, or trees, or telephone boxes, or community centres, or roads that haven’t been dug up 85 times since being laid three weeks earlier. All you expect are piles of pizza delivery fliers, expertly spammed through unwanting doors by a desperate Royal Mail.

I blame Thatcher.

Wem-ber-lee! Wem-ber-lee! Wem-ber-oh, shit – boo!

My fourth (or fifth – already losing count, I’m such a veteran) St Ives FC experience came in the FA Cup. Nope, not the Final, but nearly – it was the… First Qualifying Round!

Yes, a mere four months before the big time Charlies start noticing the FA Cup at all. And then put out their third teams to beat the team who beat the team who beat the team who beat the team who put out St Ives Town. But not yet!

Joking aside, this was a big day for St Ives. This was the equal highest round the club had got to in the world’s finest football competition, so a win would be club history. We’d got a tricky draw against a side on equal footing (also tier 8) but in a different part of the pyramid; Dereham Town from the Ryman North.

My season ticket didn’t cover cup games, but I wasn’t going to miss this one. Luckily my hangover meant I wasn’t worried about the pitch-side booze ban, but there was definitely a different atmosphere around the ground. A sad lack of pints of the magic of the FA Cup? Who can say.

On the pitch St Ives started slowly (as usual) and Dereham took a deserved lead. But a hilarious goalkeeping blunder unfortunately (for him) gifted the ball to Town’s on-form striker Ogbonna, who lashed it straight back past him shortly before half time. This calmed the nerves and not long into the second half he’d scored two more for his hattrick and everyone could start to relax. History had been made – Wembley loomed large!

I got excited about the draw for the Second Qualifying Round. It was when some pretty big sides came in, up to tier six of the pyramid, which offered all kinds of possibilities – a local-ish game versus Histon (boo!) or Cambridge City (hurray!); a bigger club fallen on hard times (Stockport County anyone?), or a team from my past (Harrow Borough, or Wealdstone). It could mean some decent money, or a fun away trip – or maybe even progress to the next round and even bigger teams. Or it could mean away to Concord bloody Rangers.

Yes. The biggest game in St Ives town history was to be against some no-mark team I’d never heard of, from the far from convenient Canvey Island – described by some as the worst chav town in Essex. Worse still, it was a team punching above its weight with a better team than Town’s but getting smaller crowds. Marvellous.

I didn’t get to the game (although around 100 fans did make the journey, doubling the crowd – bravo!), but I am pleased to report the Saints apparently held their own, only to go out 4-3 after going down to 10 men.

So FA Cup glory is gone for another year, but joking aside there are no hard feelings. In fact, I will be cheering on ‘the beachboys’ in the next round – because they were drawn against bloody Histon! Bugger bugger bugger bugger…

Becoming St Ivian, part 3: From Holywell highs to non league lows

Holywell lakesAn empty August Bank Holiday gave Zoe and me the perfect excuse to spend another Sunday afternoon discovering some local countryside. Learning our lesson from the Woodhurst walk we made sure we found a ramble to a village which had a pub, in case of emergencies.

A few days earlier we’d had some pretty torrential showers, so we didn’t want to risk one of the walks out over the flood plains. Instead we struck out east, towards Holywell. Things started badly, with the first few hundred yards being unkept and knee-deep in stinging nettles – not great for the shorts-wearing other half. But we found a way around this section and carried on regardless.

Holywell motorboat

Welcome to the jungle

The next stretch was better kept, but no less uninspiring.

We traipsed along a well wooded path with an overgrown water trench on one side and a lake we couldn’t see on the other, with the dull peace only occasionally broken by a boat pumping out crap pop jungle while dragging a water skier around in a circle.

We popped out into a pleasant meadow after a while, although it was only a short-lived break from the boring path. But thankfully a short walk later we were in Holywell – and a meander around this lovely little ring village later, we were in the pub.

Old Ferry BoatThe Old Ferry Boat Inn is a lovely looking pub that does very ordinary food and even more ordinary beer, but when it has a location as good as this and the weather is good, who cares? It was reasonably priced, warm (the food, not the beer) and politely served – that will do me.

Afterwards we wandered along the river, up to the church (pictured in the distance a few pictures below – 10p to anyone who can spot it…) and then through some gorgeous countryside, including some lovely meadows along the river  – but again, only for about 20 minutes or so. Then we hit a long, horrible and overgrown car track that went past an equally unpleasant cement works – including having to pretty much walk along a wall to get past some flooding.

Narrow boats moored outside the Old Ferry Boat

Narrow boats moored at the Old Ferry Boat

Our conclusion was that, for the most part, this isn’t a fun walk. However, the unpleasant bit is short and the place you get to is well worth getting through the boring bits to arrive at.

Next time we’ll definitely continue the walk on to next-door Needingworth and see what that village has to offer too.

When we got back to St Ives we met some friends and carried on drinking – which didn’t leave me in a great place for the following day’s football. Peterborough supporting Lee came along with his daughter and we sat/stood variously around the pitch feeling a bit sorry for ourselves.

A St Ives Town performance to match my hangover

If you squint carefully, you'll see a church!

If you squint carefully, you’ll see a church!

The night before there had been a bunch of guys in the Oliver Cromwell pub (St Ives’ finest) in fancy dress being very, very drunk – the kind of drunk that makes other drunks feel sober in comparison. After this performance, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if some of them had been on the pitch against Kettering Town that Bank Holiday afternoon.

St Ives Town had started the season unbeaten; Kettering Town had played three, lost three, scored none and conceded nine. This was only going to go one way, right? Wrong…

It’s worth mentioning the Kettering fans here. Despite a terrible start to the season, and a terrible few years in which they’d been relegated, lost their ground and their players due to financial irregularities, and almost disappeared completely, they came in good numbers. A few weeks before Chertsey had brought maybe 15 – Kettering brought hundreds, and they were behind their team from the start.

No shots of the football this time - although this field is probably about as flat as the pitch

No shots of the football this time – although this field is probably about as flat as the pitch

The Kettering side is very young, but you could see they were starting to add a bit of league nous and steel to their obvious athleticism. They harried St Ives in a way they hadn’t experienced yet this season and were a lot tougher than they looked.

St Ives had no time on the ball and as plan A went out the window it became obvious fast that there wasn’t a plan B. The Saints were 1-0 down at half time and lucky it wasn’t more – surely a half time team talk and reshuffle would turn the tide?

The second half began much as the first had – and then, amazingly, got worse. One got sent off, a second goal went in, another got sent off, they gave away a (missed) penalty – it was awful. Lee’s daughter even managed to get stung by a wasp – but at least it meant she got to go home before the end! It was a bit of a footballing lesson for St Ives and in truth they probably needed to be brought down a peg after a great start – this must’ve solidly grounded them!

But I wasn’t put off at all. Not once did I dream of a comfy seat at the Emirates watching millionaires play the game as God meant it to be played. I’ll take my football with a pint, a bit of extra fat and the occasional glimpse of brilliance, thanks very much.

Becoming St Ivian, part 2: Of antelopes and season tickets

As Zoe and me near the end of our first month in St Ives, I thought I’d take the opportunity to continue the twin topics of my first St Ivian post: local walks and local football. Yup, I am firmly embracing middle age – no mid-life crisis for me, bring on retirement!

A typical English summer

A typical English summer…

Having enjoying our previous week’s walk to Woodhurst so much, and with the English summer holding out into a shock second week, we decided to retread our steps then continue onto Old Hurst.

A part from taking about the first wrong turning we could (which luckily we quickly realised) the walk was otherwise blissfully uneventful; the council had even removed a fallen tree we’d reported the previous week that was blocking the path (nice work chaps). The walk on to Old Hurst is unfortunately along a road, but it’s only about 30 minutes and the views are pretty stunning.

You've got it, they'll kill it and shove it in the freezer

You name it, they’re probably butchering it

While I was disturbed to find that like Woodhurst it didn’t have a pub, Old Hurst did at least have alligators. And not only live, swimming ones – its also got ones you can put in a sandwich.

Because Old Hurst is home to Johnsons Farm and Farm Shop; a fantastic combination of family friendly animal park, restaurant and farm store.

More scared of me than I am of them. Possibly

More scared of me than I am of them. Possibly

If you’re in the Cambridgeshire area this is definitely a place to take the kids.

There’s everything from the domestic standards in the working farm (from pigs to peacocks) right through to the more exotic: kangaroos, bison, antelope and the aforementioned crocs, amongst others. And because it’s a shop, it’s free.

Python crocodile kangaroo nom

Python crocodile kangaroo nom

There’s a nice little tea room/restaurant that covers you for everything from an ice cream or cream tea to a fully blown meal, while the shop itself sells all the usual farm shop fare – plus a ton of interesting animal bits (literally).

We grabbed ourselves some antelope burgers and headed home (they were actually really nice too; quite tough, but pleasantly beefy). We’ll definitely be back for more.

The walk home was just as lovely, if ever so slightly blighted by some Christian ‘rock’ band playing very loudly at a camp site to about 12 people. Weird and frankly more of an audience than they deserved.

“Do you all work at Thorpe Park?”

My first St Ives Town programme from the season opener, plus my misprinted season ticket

My first St Ives Town programme, plus my misprinted season ticket

While I couldn’t make it to any more of St Ives Town’s pre-season friendlies I did follow through on my plan to pick up a season ticket.

Club secretary Simon gave me the warmest of welcomes, showing off his Spurs tattoo and dutifully spelling my name completely wrong on my hand laminated pass – non-league football at its best!

But in seriousness, once again it was a 100 per cent friendly and welcoming experience. I had some fun banter with Simon over email and at the opening game of the season (versus Chertsey Town), plus some beers and a good chat with a semi-regular Scot (by which I mean a Scotsman who occasionally goes to St Ives games, not, well, you know) who really loved his non-league footy.

Despite knowing no one, from the fans to the players, and having no history with the club, I was still nervous at kick-off: It was St Ives’ first game ever at this level (the exotically titled Calor Southern League Division One Central) after promotion last season. Could they cope with the step up in class?

Just my luck - stuck behind a pillar

Just my luck – stuck behind a pillar

The answer was a pretty resounding yes. After going one down against the run of play, second half goals from Jon Stead and new signing Dubi Ogbonna gave the Saints a deserved 2-1 win in front of a ‘bumper’ (according to the official website) crowd of 232.

I’m already convinced the season ticket was £80 well spent. I know it’s a cliché, but this does feel like ‘proper’ football. You’re not going to find the home team’s physio going round the crowd asking for headache tablets at an Arsenal game are you?

And, as a former gooner, it’s not like I’m used to a great atmosphere at games: I’m more than happy with an imaginative, “Do you all work at Thorpe Park?” chant from a small group of St Ives lads – admirably applauded by Chertsey’s travelling army of 10 or so fans.

This week’s Arsenal Supporter’s Trust statement refusing to back a new contract for Arsene Wenger puts things very much in perspective. I just paid £80 for my season ticket here, while over at Arsenal these poor schmuks are paying £1,000 for theirs – and I’m pretty sure that even now, a week into the season, St Ives have spent more on players. Makes you think doesn’t it…

Becoming St Ivian: St Ives Town FC and a walk to Woodhurst

For the past week I’ve lived in St Ives – Cambridgeshire division (rather than the poncey Cornish version). I’ve never lived in a town before, having spent my entire life in cities apart from a brief spell of pseudo village life (in Milton, just outside Cambridge). Neither here nor there, much like your average town I guess, but I thought it was worth a mention.

We chose St Ives, although if prevailing winds had gone the other way we could’ve ended up in Ely (coincidentally one of the UK’s rare pseudo cities). A week in and I’m happy to say, so far, I’m glad we ended up here. The house is as lovely as we remembered it from back when we started the ridiculous UK house buying process, while the commute into Cambridge for work is actually a pleasure (a 30 minute bus ride though nice countryside). But more than that, St Ives itself has welcomed us more than I expected.

There’s something honest about the place, much as you’ll find in any town within 100 miles or so of London. they all feel a bit like London overspill – and many of them are. But as someone brought up in greater London that just makes me feel at home. The average person isn’t quite openly friendly, but they’re more forgiving than Londoners and quite a few will say hello in the street if you smile at them. And outside of twats on a Saturday night, you soon feel safe wandering about – even if you’ve got stupid hair and T-shirts like me.

Arsen, je ne regrette rien

A year ago I posted a blog about falling out of love with football, and more specifically my boyhood/teenhood/manhood club Arsenal. My sentiments haven’t changed, despite the club’s glorious achievements since (cough) and I’ve been looking forward to moving to St Ives to see if I could rekindle my love of the game at a slightly less exotic level.

A season of unfettered glory can only start here

A season of unfettered glory can only start here

As chance would have it, the first Saturday after we moved into the house saw big time charlies Cambridge United visit St Ives Town for a pre-season friendly.

A beautiful sunny day, nothing in the diary and five quid to get in – what could possibly go wrong?

Absolutely nothing, as it happens. You could buy a beer while watching the game, a good few hundred turned out to watch and the mighty Saints put those posh city gents to the sword 3-1. It was men against boys – quite literally, as it turned out, as the Us had sent what had to be their youth team along (judging by the uniformly tragic boy band haircuts).

But a win’s a win and we saw four good goals – well worth a fiver of my money. But more importantly, despite being the only dickhead there with a ponytail and one of about three not wearing shorts, I was made to feel thoroughly welcome.  A few lads went as far as including me in a bit of banter (not at my expense, thankfully), which only helped me decide a season ticket (£80 before August 1, bargain hunters) will indeed be mine.

The only real downside was that I saw far more spurs shirts than I was happy with (one, plus a tattoo) – but I suppose you have to expect that. And he had his back to the match for most of the game; clearly a season ticket holder used to seeing his adopted charity London side mangle the beautiful game on a weekly basis. Yes, despite falling out of love with Arsenal, I still find I hate spurs.

Match highlight: A new signing scoring St Ives Town’s second goal, prompting the announcer to proclaim: “And the goal was scored by… Tom!” I can only presume he’s a swarthy yet genius young Brazilian who’ll have just his first name emblazoned across the back of his shirt.

A walk on the wild side – to Woodhurst

Looking back to St Ives, less than 30 minutes after leaving the house

Looking back to St Ives, less than 30 minutes after leaving the house

Zoe and me decided to conclude our first weekend in St Ives with a wander.

While we’re perhaps a little too far from the town centre (about a 25 minute drunken stagger) we’re blissfully close to some proper countryside; about 10 minutes walk either north and west. It seemed unadventurous of us not to at least try and get lost/bitten/murdered once before this rare summer gives up the ghost.

Retiring to the interweb I found the tip top blog Cambridgeshire Walks. Luckily it had a walk to a village we’d seen on Google Maps and new was in range, even with the afternoon growing late, so with smartphone in hand we headed off into the undergrowth.

I can’t quite describe how chuffed we were within about half an hour of leaving home. Blue skies, green fields and not even a whiff or hum of traffic – lovely.

This just doesn't get boring. Unless you're a farmer, perhaps

This just doesn’t get boring. Unless you’re a farmer, perhaps

Everyone we met en route gave a smile and “hello” (not that we saw more than a few people) and despite going completely the wrong way (much like a city twat) we made it to the pretty Anglo-Saxon ring village of Woodhurst without incident.

I’m not kidding – my reading skills managed to take us on the completely wrong path, but luckily it was a circular walk and I managed to take us the wrong way around it, rather than into a field of wild bulls (or worse, stinging nettles). GPS was a waste of time too – it had me about five miles east of where I was (reasonably) sure I was.

Woodhurst is a pretty if rather pointless place (unless you live there, I guess). No shop is one thing – but no pub?! It’s a village for god’s sake – did I miss a meeting? I thought there was some sort of ancient charter or Magna Carter or something, demanding every village at least has somewhere to buy booze? At least they have neighbourhood watch…

But I’m not going to let the lack of an early evening Sunday pint sour the experience; the walk was the perfect end to a really lovely first week in St Ives – to which I should briefly add a nice evening out with local friends Lee, Morph and Davina (and not so local Matt), a friendly welcome from neighbours Gill (and dogs) and George (via beautifully drawn work of art that’s now on the fridge) and a few beers in the rather lovely Oliver Cromwell pub. Not to forget Zoe’s mum, who was a great help on moving day – cheers!