Canvey Islanders out on the tiles
CANVEY Island were on their way to a 2-2 draw with Brighton yesterday and their dug-out was throbbing. Tony Mahoney, substituted, emerged still sweating to suck on a well-earned Silk Cut. Jeff King, the manager, issued an urgent tactical instruction to his aides. "Get some of those people off the top of those toilets," he said. "It could be dangerous."
As King gazed wistfully across the Park Lane ground, with its 3,500 tightly-packed souls, he had cause to reflect on the vaunted romance of the FA Cup first round. Ignoring the taunts from Brighton supporters about the size of his waistband, King could dream of a trip to the Goldstone Ground for the replay a week tomorrow, while hoping that the Canvey Island 'khazis' did not collapse before his men arrived to clear the roof.
So goes it in ICIS League football, where the 'press room' is a raised platform of planks, reachable only by way of a creaky stepladder, the club shop shares the same dimensions as a telephone kiosk, and the physio has a habit of shouting "quality!" when he is pleased with one of his players. The only bung you would hear of down here, in one of Britain's less glamorous seaside spots, is a tenner for the postman at Christmas.
"I have never known Canvey Island to be the attraction of so much media attention as this," wrote King, a local nightclub owner with a good-time girth. The truth is he had probably never known Canvey Island to be the "attraction" of any media attention. Certainly, Nick and Anne were unlikely to invite club officials on to the daytime television sofas after Canvey Island had won the Essex Senior League (football, not darts).
For Liam Brady, King's counterpart, this was a second plunge into the nether regions of non-League footy. Last year, Brighton went out at the same stage to Kingstonian. If Alan Harding, the Canvey No 12, had beaten the Brighton goalkeeper with a fierce shot in the last five minutes then Brady might have been scanning the ICIS League for a new job. In an inversion of the natural order, the Seagulls are currently being dumped on regularly from a great height. Brady, remember, has graced the finest footballing lawns of Italy with the likes of Juventus and Inter Milan. With the Goldstone Ground sold to property developers, his club are about to join the ranks of the South Coast homeless. If Brighton still has a pleasant seafront, the industrial skyline of Canvey Island puts you in mind of southern Silesia, yet prettiness and tradition count for nothing on a bumpy Essex field in November.
How they enjoyed their brush with proper football, this self-proclaimed 'Yellow Army' of postmen and brickies and bouncers (why are they never surgeons or teachers or gamekeepers?). The club were happy to welcome "the Mayor of Castle Point and other distinguished guests" and were duly apologetic about squeezing Brighton into a visitors' dressing-room that measured 12ft by 12ft. Another 'khazi', to quote King again.
At the end of a week in which football has made even boxing seem about as seedy as an episode of Postman Pat, it was something of a relief to observe such snorting endeavour under a warm sun. We become so inured to the idea of football as a business, as a means of fighting over money, that it jars in the mind to see the game played for nothing more grand than boasting rights in the pub, or the chance to win some award at the club's annual dinner dance.
At places like Canvey Island, a less complicated and less mendacious spirit prevails. Before the game, Glenn Pennyfather, a Canvey midfielder and a former professional with Southend, Crystal Palace and Ipswich, was reflecting cheerfully on last week's 5-0 win over Tilbury. "It really should have been 6-0," Pennyfather said, but Steve 'Herman' Porter, who scored Canvey's first equaliser yesterday, had missed a penalty. His excuse, said Pennyfather, was that "his hair was in his eyes".
'I was really disappointed with Brighton. I thought they would be much better than us, but the supposed gap in class didn't show' The usual caper of showing press passes was dispensed with in favour of an "awright mate - in you go" approach. Almost all the baiting and hating came from the Brighton end, where the deckchair-striped shirts carried echoes of the Titanic. If the FA Cup first round is the great democracy then Brighton, not Canvey Island, is the rotten borough. There were times yesterday when you could hardly tell the teams apart. Others had helped Canvey Island enjoy their day. In his pre-match notes, King declared: "I would like to thank Concorde Rangers for not making us fulfil our Eastern Floodlit League fixture last Tuesday so that we could prepare for this, our biggest match ever to be staged at Park Lane." A round of drinks for Concorde Rangers, whoever they are.
For Brighton, in contrast, facing possible extinction, a thick storm is rolling in off the Channel. Twelve years after the club reached an FA Cup final against Manchester United, they are letting in water second from bottom in Endsleigh League Division Two, and the Football Association are investigating a controversial change in the club's constitution that allowed the board to profit from the sale of their ground.
With a team who looked yesterday as if they would do no more than cope in an ICIS League, Brighton must have a claim to be the most wretched club in Britain. It was only 30 years ago that they were attracting crowds of 35,000 for FA Cup ties at the Goldstone. We will go on wondering how any group of company directors could have presided over such a dramatic collapse in the 12 years since Brighton's big day out at Wembley.
From Alan Brett, Canvey Island's second scorer, came this withering thought: "I was really disappointed with Brighton. I thought they would be much better than us, but the supposed gap in class didn't show."
"What do I think of Brighton?" said Jeff King. "I think the beach is all right." Then he probably went off to check the toilets.
Match Report by Paul Hayward
Canvey - John Keeley, Kevin Lee, Eddie Martin, Wayne Joselyne, Steve Porter, Alan Brett, Glenn Pennyfather, Wayne Pizzey, Gary Britnell, Andy Jones, Tony Mahoney. Subs: Chris Blakebrough, Micky Desborough, Alan Harding
Brighton - Rust, Smith, Myall, Parris, Osman, McCarthy, Mundee, McDougald, Minton, Byrne, Wilkins. Subs: Munday,Tuck, Andrews.
Ref: M C Bailey (Cambridge)
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