APOCALYPSE SLOUGH – THE SEQUEL
Despite Tooting’s history of mostly abject failure in the competition since the days when Boney M and Dickie Davies conspired to control the planet, the FA Cup still has a stranglehold on my senses. When we finally made it to the First Round Proper in 2009 after 32 years in the wilderness, I was a happy but senseless wreck for the 8-week duration of that magical journey. No danger of that this year.
Back in September, Fortress Imperial Fields hosted competitive football for the first time in over six months, in the form of the FA Cup preliminary round tie against Fisher Athletic.
The loin moistening prospect of Tooting cup glory wasn’t really an issue as I fumbled my way into the spooky world of online bookings for match tickets in the face of rumours of sell- out crowds in a reduced capacity stadium.
The prospect of a (sort of) packed stadium without me there to see righteousness prevail raised the stakes as kick-off time drew near, and sweat drenched panic took over as I broke into a lusty sprint alongside the Wandle’s throbbing torrents.
Omens and Devilry are never far away in non-league football and I stared long and hard at the fat grey heron on the river bank in my search for a glimpse of the future, but he had fuck all to say in response.
At the ground, the queues brought back memories of epic cup ties all those decades ago and cup fever’s horny clasp was upon me once again.
But dread and foreboding took over when people in the queue (complete strangers, which is a bit of a novelty these days in Terror Town) started to discuss what happened if the scores were level after 90 minutes. Penalties apparently. No replays, no extra time, just fucking penalties.
A fair few of my favourite Tooting memories have involved famous cup replay victories under lights, none more so than our epic extra time 4-3 triumph at Eastbourne Borough back in 2009, but we could forget about all that because the FA have spent the last 20-30 years or so desecrating their greatest asset. Replays consigned to the bowels of oblivion, extra time but a passing fad.
Aside from that, my metabolism isn’t equipped to deal with penalties in the first match of the season.
At that point, I still was more concerned with beating the crowds to get into the ground before the gates closed and hadn’t given the performance or result much thought.
The fear and loathing only really set in when, safely through the turnstiles, I heard Trifle King Roy Sisley’s quivering announcement over the tannoy that our guest of honour was former Tooting star Trevor Dark. The attacking midfielder-cum-forward had emerged from Mitcham to play top flight football, aged 16, at Anfield, turning out for a disintegrating Birmingham City team. After that, the only way was up and he joined Tooting in November ’87, scoring and starring in an epic 5-3 triumph over a cheating Hayes outfit. But the storm clouds were gathering and 18 months later, Trevor was in the side that wobbled perilously towards the club’s first ever relegation and took on Slough Town at their place, needing a convincing win to survive.
With the hordes roaring them on, the Terrors titillated us all by ripping apart the Berkshire village for fifteen minutes without actually scoring. After that, western civilization collapsed and we conceded four, missing two second half penalties under crimson skies. Trevor’s was the second of these abominations, his cunningly slow strike failing to deceive the keeper as it snailed its way into his grateful grasp. Howls of contempt rained down from one or two of the Bog End vultures and there followed a cheerful exchange of abuse, but by then I was too depressed to see straight, let alone speak. Apocalypse Slough indeed.
Trevor Dark was a good player and seemed like a decent bloke from the handful of conversations I recall but he had returned, all be it unwittingly, to curse our cup crusade, as I knew only too well from the moment of Sisley’s salute.
Perhaps the penalties defeat was inevitable, though it would have helped if the Fisher keeper was less than blow job distance from our erratic penalty takers when they struck their wayward efforts.
But Satan weaves another spell – the curse that comes with our large stadium and expectant support: the visitors, like lower league Fisher, well organized, fitter and more motivated on their big day out: even after centre half Sinn’kaye Christie, rising like a young salmon, nodded us ahead and Dontai Stewart, with a sizzling first time finish, restored our lead, the docklands dealers coming back to equalize at the death.
Apocalypse Slough had returned and slinked away, but the Terrors, lethal on their travels for most of 2020, have still to overcome their demons at home to triumph in the name of justice and freedom. And we can’t afford to hang around for the fat heron of the Wandle to give us permission.