Herne Bay 2 West Auckland 2
After attending the superbly organised and thoroughly enjoyable Central Midlands league hop the previous weekend, I had fully intended to make the long trawl up to Dunston. But at short notice, I couldn't find a reasonably cheap rail ticket and in this present climate, could not justify the expenses. So it was off to Herne Bay who funnily enough, I had visited in pre-season for the first time. I got my first view of the new concourse at Kings Cross station and what an excellent improvement it is. Nice shops, plenty of standing room with clear information on train departures adn queues for the photo opportunity with a shopping trolley disappearing into the wall at platform 9 & 3/4. The journey out to the north Kent coast doesn't look to be far when you look at a map, but seems to take a long time on the train considering that there's only a handful of stops. But the journey went without incident and I was in the happy position on arriving in Herne Bay of knowing exactly where I was going. Things were well Marshalled on arrival and I was soon in the ground. Small covered areas are on wither side and behind the far goal. There were four different places where you could buy food and this helped to keep the queues down. The cheeseburger was not at all bad but not a patch on the fabulous offering at Dronfield a week earlier. I also had a cold, hot cross bun which was on sale and thoroughly enjoyed this early Easter offering. Due to threats of 18-20 degree temperatures and not a cloud in the sky, I went without a coat. Idiotically, I forgotten that we would be right next to the coast and as pleasant as the sun was, it was remarkably chilly.
Sadly, this game will be remembered for the pathetic behaviour by a group of Herne Bay fans. They had assembled at least an hour before the game and immediately started hurling deeply unpleasant, homophobic chants at the West Auckland fans. After a long journey from the North, these followers deserved a warm welcome. The chanting continued all afternoon and there was a real tension around when a group of Auckland fans, probably sick of the abuse they'd been taking for the last hour, went and stood in the same covered area. The chanting was deeply unpleasant all afternoon, completely lacking in any humour or support for their team and purely based on insulting and winding up the opposing fans. It's such a shame that the biggest day in a clubs history should be hijacked by this pathetic, hooligan element. The stewards did a brilliant job under severe provocation and I'll never understand why the police did not enter the ground.
The game itself was excellent. Both teams played the game hard but fair. Respect was shown all around and it was expertly refereed. Auckland scored after only 5 mins. A nervy attempt at control by the Herne Bay centre half went wrong and Auckland broke clear to slot home. On 15 mins the lead was doubled with a well hit finish from just outside the box and it was all looking a bit one-sided. But Herne Bay fought back with the best goal of the afternoon as their nippy cwntre forward blasted a finish into the far corner after a run down the left. The equaliser came 5 mins into the second half as a 25 yard shot went in after catching a deflection of a defender. Herne Bay came closest to sealing a first league advantage, but the Auckland keeper made a great save at the death.
The game was very enjoyable but this is the second year running where I've encountered crowd incidents at the semi-final stage. I've got to the stage now where if this happens again, I'm going to go elsewhere on semi-final days and let the idiots spoil someone elses day.
No second leg for me as my wife is singing in a choir at Wembley stadium next Saturday and I'm off to watch.
I know - no cpmment!