In his match preview for Haywards Heath Town’s final match of the league season, away at Horsham YMCA, club webmaster and media guru Stuart Morgan described the previous seven days as ‘a testing week where the world and his wife have had a go at Heath.’ It wasn’t difficult to understand what he meant. After beginning the week with internet speculation about whether Karl Akehurst and Nathan Cooper had appeared in a match against the same opposition earlier in the season whilst suspended- Sussex FA confirmed that they hadn’t- now they were the subject of even more of the same, this time concerning robust striker Melford Simpson. How they were supposed to concentrate on football- and, more accurately, on winning a match against in-form opponents and as such clinching the Southern Combination Premier Title and promotion to Ryman South- with all of this going on was difficult to comprehend. But concentrate they did, in spectacular fashion.
Before kick-off at Gorings Mead discussion in the bar and around the perimeter was two-fold; was there some kind of vendetta against the club and had manager Shaun Saunders got his selection all wrong? Saunders, something of a promotion expert, had decided not to include a substitute goalkeeper on the bench despite the dangers of a rock-hard pitch, had left top scorer Trevor McCreadie kicking his heels, returned son Callum to the fray despite the midfielder having missed a number of weeks with a metatarsal injury, and rested experienced Jamie Weston despite thoughts that his guile would be needed against the robust YMCA attack. The outcome proved quite comprehensively that Saunders knew exactly what he was doing and the rest of us should remain welded to our armchairs with our mouths taped shut.
Advice that the football-watching public have been giving to Robbie Savage for years.
Heath went on the offensive almost from the off. There were obviously some nerves around the team- captain Naim Rouane instructing anyone who would listen to “chill out”- but the jitters lasted only eleven minutes, which was how long it took for the away side to go ahead. A free kick was whipped in from the right, Simpson left his defender marking dust and headed firmly to keeper Mark Fox’s left, and whilst a diving save kept the ball out Joel Daly was following in to force it home. Heath were dominant in almost every area; the only battle which YM were winning was the whinging contest, where full back Dean Carden was in danger of winning a gold medal or giving himself a coronary, whilst referee Nick Blogg effected the selective deafness of a Prime Minister being asked a question in the House of Commons.
As we approached the half hour mark YM began to have their best spell of pressure, with Phil Johnson and Mark Cave making inroads, but just as it looked as if the home side might not give up without a fight Heath doubled their lead; Daly again firing home after excellent work from Simpson and Kane Louis. Seven minutes later it was three, and the match was effectively over, as a beautiful through ball from Saunders put through Louis, who finished expertly.
The second half saw YM get an unlikely foothold, as a corner from Harry Shipton curled straight into the net, beating Heath keeper Josh James at his near post. Some reports have given this goal to Johnson, but it was debateable whether he got even the slightest of touches. James was so annoyed it took him almost half a minute to leave the back of his own net, where he had fallen in his attempts to claw the ball away.
The match then became a little stale. Some members of the crowd at this point seemed to be more enthralled by the dandelion seeds which were blowing around the pitch in enormous numbers than by the football, only to be brought back from their daydreams by a shout of pain from Heath skipper Rouane. Twisting to control a ball with no opposition player in tackling distance he fell to the ground in the middle of the park, and players from both sides immediately showed their concern. He had to be carried off but refused to go to hospital, and was later to be seen at full time trying to make his way to the far end of the ground to celebrate with his team mates, on crutches and with his right leg held in the air. You had to admire his persistence, if not necessarily his choice of expletives; perhaps he needed more pain relief.
It was at this point that YM finally fell apart. A great strike from substitute Jamie Weston made it 4-1, and the home supporters began leaving in droves. Five minutes later it was five, as Trevor McCreadie finished from a narrow angle, at which point a lone voice in the Victor Gladwish Stand shouted, “we want six!” Within no time at all he’d achieved this wish, through the appropriately named George Hayward, before yelling “we want seven” and soon getting that too, through Simpson. It was a shame he hadn’t started giving instructions earlier; we could all have gone home at half time.
Heath celebrated their triumph with gusto, and defeat of title rivals Shoreham- losing 1-0 at Arundel- meant that their winning margin was an unlikely four points. But there was no trophy to present, the SCFL not wanting to look silly if it was later taken away.
The next week may see Heath fingers bitten down to the bone. The crux of the matter appears to be that Simpson allegedly failed to pay his part of a collective fine imposed whilst he was playing for Fisher FC- a trifling sum. Research would suggest, however, that his suspension for not stumping up a whole ten pounds was not listed on the FA website at the time of his signing at the Hanbury Stadium, and instead was only entered there retrospectively; which begs the question of how Heath would be likely to know about it?
Five months ago, when Shoreham were eight points clear, Heath being able to challenge for promotion looked as likely as Katie Hopkins being given a job with the United Nations. That they have managed to achieve a twelve-point swing during the intervening period, however, demonstrates quite conclusively that the best team have finished on the top of the pile.
Here’s hoping that the fate of the SCFL title will be decided on the field of play, not in a boardroom.
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Published on in Steps 3-6.