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BLIND, STUPID AND DESPERATE
 
FA Cup Trail:
FA Cup Third Qualifying Round, 12/10/02
Grays Athletic 2(0)
Team: 1. Melvin Capleton 2. Steve Robinson 3. Jason Broom 4. Peter Smith 5. Ben Lewis 6. Dave Collis 7. Adam Miller 8. Allan McLeod 9. Aaron McLean 10. Wayne Vaughan 11. Sammy Cooper
Scorers: Vaughan 78, McLean 85
Hayes 1(0)
Team: 1. 1. Bertrand Bossu 2. Mark Molesley 3. Kevin Warner 4. Yiadom Yeboah 5. Jamie Jarvis 6. Paul Holsgrove 7. Justin Cochran 8. Dean Clarke 9. Ian Hodge 10. Michael Clarke 11. Peter Holsgrove
Scorer: Sub (Hastings) 92

Referee: M. Ives
Crowd: 315 (official)
Conditions: Dry, occasional sunshine, a cold northern wind

Entry: 7 adults, 4 concessions, free for Under 11s accompanied by an adult
Programme: 1.50 for 20 page full colour outer on gloss + 28 page b/w photocopied inner on matt, with one staple
Refreshments: 45p for a cup of tea, 50p for coffee, Twix 40p
Distance travelled: 148 miles (no deviations)

"Perfect rhyming symmetry"
By Baz Barry
 
Conveniently ignoring the "Athletic", can you think of any other football pairing with such perfect rhyming symmetry? Grays versus Hayes. Go on, I dare you.

Oh all right, as luck would have it, I've been spending the odd moment working through the permutations and apart from the following clutched straws there's only one game that would get close to Grays v. Hayes.

Marlow v. Harlow and Dartford v. Hertford are quite strong, in a non-league kind of way but I have to admit scraping the barrel with Wrexham against Hexham and Preston at Heston. And Crewe versus Looe is simply ridiculous.

No. Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls. The closest rhyming game to Grays playing Hayes is Leicester against Chester. Not that I'm going to let it go at that because there's a twist. Chester have never played Leicester. Fact. So what we witnessed last Saturday was a game in a lifetime, rarely repeated. Apart from this Saturday (19th), that is, when Grays play Hayes again in the Rymans Premier League.

All of which was somewhat lost on our sporadic Trail companions who instead of another dose of FA Cup football, opted instead for shopping, swimming and other easy alternatives, particularly after the dross served up a fortnight ago. It was left to Dave and I to keep the trail alive and there are certain benefits of non-league Cup football that we're getting the hang of.

At Grays you can park right outside the ground and not get pestered by local kids offering to look after your car. The clubhouse serves a comfortable and sociable pint and you can survey the ground and the teams warming up from an impressive second storey view. Cleverly, a shutter is pulled down over the window just before kick-off encouraging the punters to go and watch the game. Or perhaps it's something to do with the licensing laws.

We've worked out where to pick up (pinch) the official team sheets instead of playing catch-up with the announcer as she whistles through a list of unfamiliar names. Yes, at Grays the announcer is female, which I've not come across before and makes a refreshing change. (If only she had a Scottish accent and I would be in raptures, but that's another story.)

We're also beginning to work out the Gray fans. Those who go to watch the football, or are related to the players, seem to occupy the seats or stand near the dugouts. Then there's a mean looking and vocal bunch that position themselves undercover and next to the penalty area "the Blues" are attacking. Next to this senior crew in the pecking order, and loitering behind the nearby goal, are the teenagers who aren't quite old enough to make the main bunch but "giving it large" to anybody who comes close by, players or spectators. They are at the age where they spend as much time scoring points off each other as watching the game. At the bottom of the ladder and to one side of the goal are a cluster of younger kids who should be looking after cars outside but instead copy their terrace neighbours in word and deed. Even if they don't understand some of the put-downs. The final component of the Grays crowd, who we've seen both times we've been there, is a boy who tours the ground on a bicycle. It wouldn't happen at the Vic.

Hayes, nicknamed The Missionaries (I think), have a solid non-league pedigree punctuated with spells in the Conference, as recently as last season before being relegated. Famous ex-players include Jason Roberts, who was sold to Wolves, and Les Ferdinand who went to QPR for 30,000 in 1987 and then generated a welcome 600,000 from a sell-on clause when he joined Newcastle. Nowadays they look a tidy outfit. They played with three meaty centre halves with two useful looking wingbacks and a pair of strikers in the Helguson mould. Dean Clarke, who looked too much like a member of a boy band to be taken seriously, tried to dominate the centre of the park with some neat touches. With a name like Bertand Bossu, the goalie should be a legend but I have to report he was something of an embarrassment. He's a six and half foot Frenchman who used to play for Barnet and looks like Van Der Saar wearing jodhpurs. He made a couple of telling saves but he couldn't cope with crosses and as a result inspired panic in his defence.

At the other end of the pitch Melvin Capleton, the Grays goalie and once of Southend, gives the crowd a running commentary of the game, which I think is also meant to be a form of encouragement to his defenders, of which Dave Collis and Peter Smith caught the eye. Collis is very solid and very vocal with a choice turn of phrase and Smith, supposedly playing right back, spent most of the match going forward on unpredictable runs just like Bobby Moore on acid. Player manager Mark Simpson has shorn his head and relegated himself to the bench, although the two acts may not be related, and up front Grays successfully played with two small speedy strikers.

The match immediately settled into an engaging encounter. The teams took turns at creating good chances at uniform intervals but it wasn't until after half time that the home side began to dominate. Nevertheless, Hayes hit the bar from a deflected shot but a minute later Vaughan scored, looping a header over the hesitant Bossu from a deep cross on the right. The celebration involved running to the crowd to be engulfed by the senior "crew" and emerge wearing a Scream mask. One up on the Fulham player and his Tonto impression. The second goal came about from Jarvis being dispossessed on the edge of his penalty area and the ball being worked back for another looping header over the still hesitant Bossu.

There was still time for a late consolation goal for Hayes but everyone knew it was too late. I've never seen a goal greeted with such indifference, on and off the field. That makes it three last-minute goals in the four FA Cup Trail games we've seen so far. Not that we ever do, but we won't be leaving early next week when once again Grays, a further 10,000 the richer, have drawn a home tie against Stevenage Borough of the Conference.

We'll be there. Come and join us. It can only get better. The Trail is becoming less of a trial.