Although I had seen Woodford play before (a 10-0 drubbing at Aylesbury in the Southern Central) I had never been to Byfield Road before, and I had never seen their opponents, Wellingborough Whitworth, play at all.
Woodford's Byfield Road home is part of the local bowls club. In fact, the approach to the car park is signed bowls club rather than football club. From the car park, you approach the ground and actually walk past the entrance to the club house before you get to the turnstile block. I paid my £5 entry and took a look at the complimentary team sheet expecting an imminent kick-off. The UCL website said that it was a 7:30 start but, it was 7:27 when I got there and the teams were still out warming up, so I guessed the start would be delayed. Sure enough, it had been put back to 7:45 because some of the Wellingborough players had been late arriving. This, as it transpired, would have a knock-on effect to the game later.
The ground is much larger than I expected it to be. To the left of the turnstiles is a reasonably big covered seating area, which is on a grass bank above the side of the pitch. There is a very good view from this stand, better than most views at this level of the games. There are also small covered standing areas to the left of the turnstiles and, for some odd reason, at the right hand end of the ground, close to the corner flag. The rest of the stadium appears to be hard standing all around and bordered by fencing. I must admit, the weather was so bad, I didn't take my normal walk around the ground. As I have commented before, most dugouts seem to be positioned opposite the main stand and well away from the ears of supporters. However, at Woodford they are right in front of the main stand. Note, if you want refreshments or a toilet break you need to go back out of the turnstiles and into the aforementioned clubhouse.
I chose to take a seat in the main stand for the first half which kicked off in driving rain. Within a few minutes we had the first incident of what would be an unusual game of football. A Woodford cross from the right was met with a glancing header which appeared to go into the bottom corner of the Whitworth net. However, the ball ended up behind the goal and resting against the barrier fence. The home side claimed a goal, the away side claimed a goal kick. The referee consulted with his assistant, who was on the far side away from the side of the goal that the ball had apparently entered. After a brief discussion and a check of the net (for holes presumably) he gave a goal kick. To be fair, there wasn't too much outrage from the home team but I am fairly convinced a number of them were sure that the ball had gone in, as were the majority of the people I the seated area (apart from the Wellingborough contingent of course).
With only about 10 minute son the clock the next strange incident happened. One of the Wellingborough players wanted to leave the pitch. Our attention was brought to this by the away officials shouting to him to notify the referee. He immediately disappeared down into the changing rooms. As no substitute was forthcoming, I assumed that he would be returning shortly. However, 10 minutes passed and there was no sign, but still there was no substitute. Finally the player emerged wearing his track suit and was clearly not planning on returning to the field. It seems that some of the Wellingborough team didn't make it at all and they had no substitutes. So, the away side were playing with ten men from around about the 10th minute onwards. To their credit, they dug in well and threw themselves at a number of shots from the home team.
It took a 20 yard piledriver to finally break the deadlock. After what has to be said was a fairly dire first half the teams went in with Woodford leading by a goal to nil.
The weather was certainly not helping the game and it wasn't looking like easing off for the second half. However, my second half was made more interesting by bumping into a rather well travelled ground-hopper. Not long back from two weeks in Argentina, he must have been finding the English Autumn weather somewhat depressing. We spent most of the second half chatting about football at all levels and across the globe, from a Stratford Town supporting dog, through Stourbridge's exit from the FA Cup, Brentford (his team),Laurie Cunningham, Jim Baxter Juan Riquelme and Daniel Passarella.
On the pitch, six minutes into the second period another screamer, this time from around 30 yards, put the home side 2-0 up. The game turned very scrappy after that with a few off the ball incidents that had been building throughout the game. This almost turned into a full scale brawl at one point but the referee just about managed to keep a lid on it.
At some stage in the second half, Woodford were also reduced to 10 men. This was yet another strange incident in the game. Neither myself or the ground-hopper noticed a red card