Rant over. Why was I sitting in a traffic jam on a Tuesday evening?
Well, I was on my way to see Westfield play Hartley Wintney in, what could be, the title-deciding game of the Combined Counties Premier season.
Hartley Wintney or The Row as they are nicknamed, required a win to ensure that they became league champions for the second time in their history. Rivals, and only other title contenders, Camberley Town were playing just down the road at Chessington & Hook but, whatever their result, a Hartley win would be more than they could match.
Woking Park is a fairly large park and leisure complex on the edge of the town of Woking. The football stadium itself is a relatively new part of the park next to the leisure centre and close to ample parking. The pitch is in the shadow of Woking FCs Kingfield Stadium (or should I say, Laithwaite Community Stadium) so, on a day that had seen frost in the morning and sleet & snow showers in the afternoon, a further chill was cast over this former West Brom season-ticket holder as the memories of Tim Buzaglo flooded back.
After parking in the main leisure centre car park the stadium is just a short walk across a bridge over the Hoe Stream. The entrance to the ground is through a gap in the main complex building leading to a single turnstile. This brings you into the ground at, roughly, the halfway line. Immediately to your left as you enter are a set of stairs that lead up to the bar and facilities. There is also a fairly large balcony running along the side of the complex building, outside the bar. There is more than enough room for 50 or so people to get a good view of the game from this area. There are two covered seating areas in the ground. One is a small standalone structure to the left of the far goal, the other is a few rows of seats built into the main complex directly below the bar and balcony. The dugouts are on the far side of the ground, opposite the main complex. Only three sides of the ground are open to spectators. There is no access to the far side, behind the dugouts.
Just after the 10 minute mark they almost had the opener. A long ball though the Westfield defence saw some confusion between the defender and goalkeeper allowing Hartley striker Sam Argent to get a block on the clearance. The ball ran to fellow striker Andre Williams but he dragged his shot narrowly wide. Two minutes later a free kick, fizzed in from the right, was met by a glancing header from Argent and, with the keeper beaten, it just flew past the post and out for a goal kick.
It was all Hartley at this stage but, to be fair to Westfield, they rode this initial storm and began to get a bit of a foothold in the game.
That was until the 42nd minute. There seemed to be little danger when the ball found Steve Duff 30 yards out. However, he took aim and smashed a stinging low drive past the keeper and into the bottom left hand corner of the net. A superb strike and just what Hartley needed.
The teams went in at half-time with the score at 0-1. Not a classic by any means but enough to claim the title if it stayed that way.
The second half kicked off with the home side looking rejuvenated. They had offered little in the way of attacking threat for the first 45 minutes but came close to getting back on level terms as early as the 50th minute. A cross from the right found an unmarked Westfield striker just 8 yards out but his header went wide of the far post. A real let-off for Hartley but they didn't learn their lesson. Ten minutes later Westfield produced the best move of the game. Some intricate one-touch passing right through the centre of the Hartley defence lead to a strike from the edge of the box which was deflected wide for a corner.
You could feel the nerves setting into the away side and Westfield could sense blood. A superb piece of skill from Westfield's Andrew Mensah almost brought the scores level on 70 minutes. Mensah wriggled free of his marker, making enough space for him to attempt a lob from the edge of the box. The ball easily beat the keeper but struck the underside of the bar and bounced clear. A few minutes later,
Hartley keeper Craig Atkinson had to be alert to make a good save from Adam Bellmaine as Westfield continued to put pressure on the away defence.
Then, on 82 minutes, and against the general run of play, Hartley substitute Ross Cook broke free and finished deftly past Norman in the home goal. The relief from the Hartley players, bench and support was massive. The title was heading to Green Lane despite a very spirited second-half performance from Westfield.
However, there was still time for the crossbar to come to Hartley's rescue again. This time a driven cross from the left flank was smashed against his own bar by Hartley centre-half Dean Stow. It was the last major action of the game.
Hartley were champions. As it happened, Camberley had failed to win at Chessington anyway but, the 2-0 win for The Row confirmed the destination of the title.
Congratulations to everyone at Hartley Wintney FC. A shame that the ground-grading rules won't allow the club to be promoted to Step 4. Maybe next year?
Pictures of the Championship winning squad can be found here - https://www.facebook.com/hartley.wintneyfc
Westfield - @westfield_fc
Hartley Wintney - @hartleyfc