Tring Corinthians have played on Icknield Way just to the North of the town centre since 1984. I think it is fair to say that the ground is quirky, and I mean that in a very good way. There is a fairly small car park just off Icknield Way, although I parked on the road opposite because it was pretty rammed when I arrived. Entrance to the ground is on the left hand side of the car park where a man at a small table took my entrance fee. The pitch is longways on from the car park with a separate players changing block behind the car park end goal (well, just to the side of it actually). There is a small clubhouse in the corner of the ground, which also has the officials changing area incorporated into it. I found this out when I nipped to the loo and discovered the officials area just beyond the Gents. A lucky find because I was able to ask the referee for photos of the team sheets.
The pitch is hemmed in on one side by a hedge and when I say hemmed in, I mean hammed in. There is a respect rope running half the length of the pitch, up to the dugouts at halfway, but spectators are literally standing with their backs against the hedge and their feet almost on the touchline. It's a tight squeeze to say the least, but these are the sort of things that make non-league grounds interesting. On the opposite side there is a wooden fence and trees which separate the pitch from an adjacent field. The pitch itself has a slope back towards the car park. I really took to the ground. I'm not quite sure why, but it has a certain character to it.
Corinthians were formed in 1956 and have played in the Spartan South Midlands League Division Two since joining the league in 2005. They finished fourth in their first season, scoring over 100 goals in the process. This position remains their joint highest league position, having achieved it twice more since. Berkhamsted Comrades are the reserve team of Step 4 outfit Berkhamsted FC. The club grew out of the ashes of Berkhamsted Town, formed in 1919 as Berkhamsted Comrades which is also used as the nickname for the club to this day. The name comes from the fact that the club was formed by ex-servicemen at the end of the First World War. They reached the Final of the FA Vase in 2001, going down 2-1 to Taunton Town, before the club's debts finally caused it to fold in 2009. The club started its new life in the Spartan South Midlands Division Two before climbing up the leagues to regain their place in the Southern League Division One Central. The reserves side took their place in this division last season, playing seven games before the season was abruptly ended. Corinthians also played seven games last season, the first of which was a 2-1 victory in this fixture. Liam Batchelor-Morgan scoring both Tring goals with Ben Wootton scoring for the visitors. It was Tring's only league victory last season.
This season both sides have played just one league game so far, both against sides from Milton Keynes. Tring led 1-0 at half-time at home to New Bradwell St Peter but conceded twice early in the second half to lose 2-1, whilst Berkhamsted came from a goal down at half-time to draw 1-1 at home to Old Bradwell United.
The match kicked off in bright sunshine on a muggy afternoon. Both sides looked to fairly cautious in the opening minutes, trying to suss each other out but Berkhamsted were the first to settle down and began to probe the home defence, looking to use the pace and trickery of right-winger Godlove Oppong at every opportunity. The first strike on target, however, came from an attack on the opposite flank with the ball finding its way inside for Tom Carter who shot straight into the midriff of home keeper Alex Sykes. Berkhamsted were starting to take control of the game, dominating possession, but they had to still be on their toes as, on 21 minutes, the home side manufactured a raid up their right. Marc Arnott played in Liam Burnett but the striker could not find a way past Gary Malone in the Comrades goal.
Three minutes later Berkhamsted made the home side pay for missing their chance. A right-wing corner was played to the back post. The ensuing header was cleared off the line by a defender but Jake Tabor was on hand to smash in the rebound. 0-1. They say that teams are at their most vulnerable just after they score and this proved to be the case as Tring hit back within two minutes of going behind. Comrades keeper Malone mopped up a Tring attack and tried to start a counter with a quick throw out. However, his attempted pass was intercepted and fed into Marc Arnott who made no mistake with a low drive from the edge of the area. 1-1.
The goal gave the home side renewed confidence and they enjoyed a brief spell where they had the visitors wobbling a little. Just before the half-hour mark they won a free-kick some 35 yards out. The ball was lofted into the area where Gabriel Mitetelu glanced a header into the far corner only to see the assistant's flag had already been raised.
Maybe this was the catalyst to spark the visitors back into action because within two minutes they were ahead again when Joe Hubbard just about won a race for a ball into the box and was then brought down. Penalty. Up stepped Shaun Stevens to make it 1-2.
The game then resumed its earlier pattern for 10 minutes, with Berkhamsted dominating the ball but not able to find another goal. That was until the 42nd minute when they caught the home side napping with a short corner routine. Stevens took it quickly, laying it back to full-back Alfie Gaffney. His cross was then met at the near post by Tabor to get his second and Berkhamsted's third. 1-3
HT Tring Corinthians 1 Berkhamsted Comrades 3. A strong performance from the visitors who have, aside from a brief spell, dominated possession. They did have the slope in their favour, so will that give the home side some impetus in the second half?
If Tring had aspirations to get back into the game they took a massive knock straight from the restart. Berkhamsted immediately hoisted the ball forward to Tabor who took a touch, shook off a challenge and struck a low drive past the keepers right hand. 1-4 and a hat-trick for the Berkhamsted player.
Tring, to their credit, once again tried to react to the goal immediately. They got themselves into a good position and when the ball found its way to Arnott inside the box with his back to goal, the striker was unlucky to see his sharp turn and shot strike the bar and bounce to safety. If that had gone in we may well have seen a different game but, as it was, the game then went a little flat for 20-30 minutes. Berkhamsted, being 4-1 up, were quite content to take a little breather, although they still managed to have the lion's share of the ball. Tring plugged away but maybe they thought the game was beyond them as well at this point? What no-one knew was that the teams had a grandstand finish lined up for us.
On 77 minutes, and with time running out for the home side, a ball from the left was played into the visitor's penalty area. Right-back Jake Plumridge had sneaked in at the back post and was there to nod the ball past Malone for 2-4 amidst a lot of complaints from the Berkhamsted players who thought one of their players had been fouled as the ball came into the box. I'll be honest, from my vantage point, they had a case. I thought it was a clear push. However, the referee thought otherwise and the goal stood. For the neutrals (or maybe the neutral. I may have been the only one) this was not a bad thing. Five minutes later, and with the home side starting to look as if they finally believed in themselves. it was 3-4. The Comrades failed to clear a corner and Ben Jenkins, showing remarkable perseverance, finally stabbed the ball home at the third attempt.
With two minutes of normal time remaining the comeback was complete. Plumridge on the mark again, cutting inside and drilling a low effort past the keeper. 4-4
Normal time was pretty much up but there was plenty of injury time following a fairly long delay for Berko captain Tommee Seaton, and a drinks break midway through the half. With the clock ticking down, Berkhamsted launched an attack but were thwarted at the edge of the box. It was a coming together between two players chasing the ball, hard to see clearly from the opposite end of the pitch, but the home defenders were adamant that it should not have been a free-kick. Nevertheless, that is exactly what it was, almost central and just on the edge of the box. Up stepped hat-trick man Tabor to smash a superb shot past the wall and goalkeeper to make it 4-5.
Time was well and truly against the home side, but they still had time to launch one more attack and almost snatched another equaliser when Imlagh's dramatic overhead kick came back off the post and the follow-up was eventually smothered by the keeper.
FT Tring Corinthians 4 Berkhamsted Comrades 5. A glorious afternoon of entertainment for a neutral, though I'm not so sure the coaching staff on either side would have enjoyed it too much.
Tring Corinthians: Sykes, Plumridge, Nevin, Sawyer, Jenkins, Bennett, Flynn(c), Vaughan, Burnett, Arnott, Mitetelu. Subs: Imlagh, Midwinter, Curtis, Banks, Bailey
Berkhamsted Comrades: Malone, Gaffney, Tomkins, Seaton(c), Nyembwe, Aldridge, Oppong, Hunnard, Carter, Stevens, Tabor. Subs: Olaniyan, Luke, Camara, Yeboah, Latchford
Ground Number: 275