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Ah, the south…where us northerners like to go for a good old moan…and with just cause too. It seemed like we were barely south of Catthorpe when beer suddenly became £3 a pint, huge BMW off-roaders were driving 3 millimetres from our bumper and some bilious old hag called Jane from the Bede Close branch of the Higham Ferrers Self-appointed Landscape-gardening Authorities was ranting and berating us for parking our car one the side of the road…perhaps we’d caught the place on a bad day.
You see the reason we were down here was that this was rugby country. Yes, an actual place where people are rugby fans and walk around wearing rugby tops and everything. Franklins Gardens was just to the south and we’d driven past a place called Welford so presumably Welford Road could not be far away. Yep, Everton’s tame exit from the FA Cup spelt, for us, one thing…Beer & Rugby.
Saints and Tigers would have to do without us for today, however, ‘cause we were headed to Goldington Road for Bedford V Waterloo. This would be an interesting one as it was my first ever Waterloo away game. Visitors to Blundellsands all seem to love it ‘cause it’s a “proper old fashioned rugby club”. Small, friendly little ground, lovely old clubhouse with it’s internationals board and hallowed war memorials, all the old memorabilia along with an open fire and as much real ale as you could ever want.
How would a visit to a fairly big club in rugby’s heartland stack up? Well in truth it stacked up fairly well. For a start there was people there…not millions of them but certainly about 2,000 compared to little Waterloo pulling in 750 - 1,000 on a good day. This didn’t mean that it had that faceless footy ground feeling, a nice clubhouse beckoned and the fans still mill round & mix sociably on the sidelines and the pitch, though oddly sloping was better than you’d see in many Premiership grounds (Guinness & Barclays)…Yep, Bedford is a lovely place to watch a game of rugby.
The home fans seemed a good bunch, we ensconced ourselves in with a couple of group of blues and chatted, drank and enjoyed the game together. It was all very welcoming. Indeed the one loudmouth who spent the game jeering the opposition, shouting at us to get back up the M6 and making lazy, lame “robbing Scouser” jokes about our Scottish number 8 (“Get a haircut you car thief” * pause for laughter *) seemed to be irritating home and away fan in equal amounts. So basically a case of a proper National Division One team being bigger but just a good.
Now onto the game…In that department teams like Bedford are certainly bigger but “just as good” would be a massive understatement. People talk about the gap between the Nationals and the Premiership but for a group of part-timers stepping up against teams like Bedford, Exeter, Pirates, Rotherham etc is just as big-a chasm.
We were gratified to find that the Blues hadn’t snuck any highly rated internationals into their side as they’d done with Tom Varndell back in October. Even so there was only ever going to be one winner. The Blues forced themselves into possession for most of first 40 minutes and Waterloo, it has to be said, defended tremendously. Time and time again the Blues went into contact hard through the middle, recycled professionally and worked it out wide to the quick lads. It sounds patronising but the fact that at half time the score was kept to 13-3 really was a credit to the Merseysiders but inevitably you can’t hold them off for a full 80 minutes. Almost from the off in the second half the gaps began to appear and the Blues class, professionalism and fitness told….it was only when Bedford had their bonus point safely tucked away that Waterloo had a real sustained spell of pressure. The locals were pretty unanimous in praising & applauding the visitors efforts (aside from our loudmouth friend who smugly urged the part-timers to kick for goal in order to double our score) but ultimately we all agreed that on FA Cup forth round day there was never, ever going to be a shock on the cards.In fairness to our boys this isn’t the sort of game we are targeting but you have to concede that Waterloo will almost certainly go down now. Moseley, our fellow National Division 2 promotion buddies, are making a slightly better fist of it and may stay up but it’s been ultra-tough for both teams. The demands of stepping up into a full-time game and the standards it requires are merciless…Neither Mose or ‘loo are bad sides. They walked to promotion last season and their nearest rivals that year, Esher are strolling the division in their absence.
Fairytales do happen…a post match glance at Bristol scraping a victory against Saints proves that but you get the feeling that for a small, traditional amateur club mixing it with the professionals is going to get tougher and tougher.
It’s not nearly as scary as facing the Bede Close branch of the Higham Ferrers Self-appointed Landscape-gardening Authorities though.Liverpool Daily Post - Match Report