All season the fight for the SCFL title has- albeit with special guest appearances from Lancing and Newhaven Town- been a slugging match between the League’s two heavyweights; Horsham and Eastbourne Town. This has always been an imbalanced contest, with Horsham resembling Mike Tyson versus Town’s Frank Bruno, yet until last weekend it seemed that the genial seasiders had the upper hand and were destined for promotion to the Ryman South. What a difference two games make.
As Horsham kicked off on Bank Holiday Monday they already knew that a victory over their landlords, Horsham YMCA, would take them back to the summit. They’d drawn to within two points two days earlier, narrowly beating Worthing United whilst their rivals slipped to ignominious defeat at Wick and Barnham, and courtesy of starting a match three hours after their rivals were also aware that the Eastbourne derby had ended goalless. The stage was set, and almost five hundred people were crammed into Gorings Mead- colloquially known as the Sham Siro- to see the performance.
Officially this was an away match, with YMCA the hosts, although this wasn’t reflected on the terraces. That said, technically since 2008 every match has been an away match for Horsham. Their homelessness, caused in part by the club’s sale of their old Queen Street Ground for housing in 2008 without first being entirely sure of a replacement, but mainly by the continued intransigence of the District Council, has led them to be tenants of YM since 2009. The home side have since announced that they will be terminating this agreement at the end of the 2016/17 season, leaving the Hornets in limbo once more. New plans will undoubtedly be presented to the council soon, but given the seeming not-in-my- backyard policy taken by many of the local councilors over the years it’s difficult to envisage a happy ending. Perhaps the club should propose to build directly on the site of the enormous and empty park and ride scheme subsidized at a cost of half a million pounds a year; surely the council would be glad to get rid of it.
Away from these troubles, the match promised to be a tight affair. Both sides had shown inconsistency of late, Horsham losing two of their last five whilst YM had lost three during the same period, but both came into this match on the back of successive victories and YM sat in fourth place, albeit twelve points behind their visitors.
The first twenty minutes set the pattern for the match. YM were direct, attempting to use the wind advantage to quickly set centre forward Sam Schaaf free from his markers; although occasionally opting to channel the ball through their outstanding player of the day, central midfielder Jerome Beccles. The Hornets also looked for their number nine but kept the ball on the ground, moving it through midfield and out to the wings and looking to penetrate using guile rather than simply speed. The match was initially rather cagey, with a number of robust challenges and little finesse, and it managed to silence even Horsham’s usually ebullient Lardy Army, the singing section of the away crowd only managing one rather subdued tune during this period.
Horsham went ahead in the twenty second minute, a result of what was- up until then- the best move of the match. Darren Boswell received the ball on the edge of the YM box, surrounded by defenders. Moving it from foot to foot he managed to work it out to full back Mark Knee on the left, and Knee evaded a lunging challenge and played a beautiful cross into the box, where captain Joe Shelley evaded the attentions of the home defence to head home.
At this the Lardy Army were roused from their chocolate consuming coma, launching into song. “Start spreading the lard,” they trilled, “we’re winning today, I want to be a part of it, Horsham, Horsham.” As the afternoon went on they remained in good voice, with a repertoire featuring the religious, The Beatles, Tony Christie, (rather unusually) Gary Glitter, Minnie Riperton, and a version of ‘Close to You’ which would have had Karen Carpenter spinning in her grave and had the rest of us covering our ears. They also exhibited a tendency to shout “handball” whenever the ball got within a yard of a YM midriff, but luckily the referee had better eyesight.
The home side finally got going, and applied sustained pressure to the Hornets goal. A corner from Luke Donaldson almost curled in- Horsham keeper James Shaw ended up in the net whilst keeping it out- and Shaw was called into action again shortly afterwards, saving from Dan Sullivan, Beccles, Anthony Hibbert and Donaldson again, but the half ended with Horsham still ahead and a belief amongst both sets of supporters that YM’s failure to score whilst having the wind behind them might cost them dear.
Within five minutes of the restart the fear of the YM faithful was realized, as Horsham pulled further ahead. Good work from Boswell on the left led to a short pass to Terry Dodd, just inside the opposition box. He still had much to do, and there were two defenders between him and the goal, but he managed to fire a lovely strike across keeper Mark Fox into the bottom corner of the net. The celebrations were joyous both on and off the pitch, and the gap between the sides suddenly seemed insurmountable.
Beccles attempted to get his side moving again. By far his sides best player he dug in, controlling the ball, twisting and turning, winning it and laying it off in an attempt to bring his teammates into the game, but you had to feel he was fighting a one man battle. And so it proved, as the Hornets went further ahead in the sixty-fourth minute.
YM had begin to give away a number of cheap free kicks with some tired looking fouls. One such led to Knee lofting the ball into the box from thirty yards out, and as if reenacting the first goal Shelley again outjumped the home defence and headed home. Within five minutes the gap was four goals, as another unnecessary free kick allowed another cross to be delivered into the YM box. Only cleared to the edge of the area it found the ever-impressive Dodd who moved it onto his left foot and showed great technique to fire through a crowd of players into the net. ”Horsham FC forever,” sang the Lardy Army in tribute to John Lennon, although sadly they didn’t complete the double A side by suggesting that Terry Dodd was in their ears and in their eyes, despite having perfect blue suburban skies as an accompaniment. They simply went back to the ‘70’s and did “The Hustle” instead, rather giving away their ages in the process.
The match then petered out, with the Hornets in complete control despite the continual shouts of keeper Fox for his teammates to ‘keep their heads up.’ The only incident of note was a clash between YM full back Dan Sullivan and Dodd five minutes before the end. It seemed rather innocuous, but Sullivan went down with a scream that led onlookers to believe that he must have broken his leg, thumping the ground in pain and writhing around whilst Dodd wandered off looking bemused. Sullivan then turned on the referee, asking in the most animated terms why Dodd was still on the field before accusing the official of ‘bottling’ his decision.
Sullivan hobbled off with the help of the physio, and the referee decided on a drop ball. He was probably right.
As the players celebrated with the supporters at full time, even the most partisan of Eastbourne Town fans must have conceded that the title was now Horsham’s to lose, and with only five matches to go (four for Town) you’d have thought that they were likely to be correct. Yet the twists and turns of this title race continue to intrigue, and there will be many Hornets concerned that there might yet be a sting at the tail-end of the season.
For many, many more images from the match, click the link below:
Published on in Steps 3-6.