Wasn’t last Saturday great?

The match with Campion had a bit of everything – some excellent goals, a peculiar sending-off, the fear of a ‘giant-killing’, biblical weather and a dramatic late winner. Plus, it felt like a good day off the park too; the refurbished bar looks fantastic and the ale was in excellent condition, as ever. The Tea Hut was doing brisk business and considering that Liverpool were at home and Everton were away at an easy-to-reach ground, the crowd was pretty decent.

Contrast our experience with that of National League Barnet, whose season-opener at home to Notts County was a nightmare, on and off the pitch. Not only were the Bees thumped 5-0, but the OnlyBarnet forum was littered with complaints about non-football matters as basic as there being no hot water in the Tea Bar, turnstiles not working, one bar closing without warning an hour before kick-off and draught beer not being available in the other. One supporter also remarked that:

“Once I realised the Hive bar had closed I finished my drink and walked towards the West, just as the wedding had finished and there was a Bentley parked outside the venue with the bride and groom inside, with the wedding party all surrounding it. So there were 50 football fans walking through the wedding party, trying not to get in the photos or step on a trailing sari, with quite a few anxious faces all round.”

In a statement on the club’s website, Chairman Tony Kleanthous addressed some of the points made by fans by setting out a timeline of the disasters that befell the club in the week leading up to the match. Wednesday’s entry included the remarks that “Given the impacts on footfall due to Covid restrictions for most of the past year, our caterers were unfortunately unable to continue but we did manage to find a new company to run the Tea Huts, although this was their first matchday experience and it will be a learning curve for them. After weeks of searching, we had finally found a new chef for The Hive Bar and for hospitality, so we were hoping, at least, that this area had now been resolved.”

However, by Friday, it became clear that: “Unfortunately, the new chef was not up to standard, so we decided to close The Hive Bar and notify Notts County that we were unable to provide our usual hospitality.” By this point, the club’s beer delivery hadn’t arrived and they also hadn’t received bench wear or match balls from the League’s partner for these things. Nor did they have any stewards in place, although two companies were engaged to provide those.

If all that wasn’t enough to deal with, Mr Kleanthous described Saturday as follows: “On the day, we had Stewards and Staff that failed to turn up, system IT failures, player injuries and some very angry people to deal with.”

With more than 2,000 people on site for the football, plus a wedding taking place at the same time, the whole day sounds like a fiasco and not what you might expect from a club which has had three spells in the Football League.

Compare and contrast that with the Cables experience last weekend. I got here early, bought a printed programme (also not available at Barnet; they’ve gone digital), took a seat in our refurbished and much more spacious bar and had an excellent pint of locally-brewed ale. I then chose my own vantage point, unlike Barnet fans who had previously sat in their ground’s East Stand, which is now closed to all except the players’ families, 1888 Club members and supporters with disabilities. And then there’s the actual football… I think it’s clear who had the better afternoon on that front!

I suppose the point I’m making is that I’m grateful to everyone at our club who makes coming to games such a pleasant experience. Whether they’re part of the small army of volunteers carrying out tasks all over the ground, putting in a shift behind the bar, or pulling on an amber shirt to do battle on the pitch, all are a vital part of the bigger picture. Not everything goes right all the time, but everyone gives their best, week in, week out.

Whether we win or lose this afternoon against an excellent Warrington Rylands side, I’ll go home happy. Just being able to watch the match, while catching up with mates and having a pint or two brings me joy; getting the three points would top things off nicely!