Existential angst at Grays is so intense that maybe frustrations all come out on the pitch.
This was pure edge for the last 30 minutes: an orgy of moaning minnies, harrying of officials, jostling and whining, it left you wondering why refs get out of bed in the mornings.
FA Trophy winners ten years ago, Grays are now renting at Aveley a few miles west of Grays, in the long Essex urban sprawl on the banks of the Thames estuary.
Aveley FC: another delightful no-frills Ryman ground with a terrace like Granola that hosts a posse of lodger’s codgers, and a white picket fence that on closer inspection turns out to be made of concrete – very 70s.
As was the music – ‘Jean Genie’, Ian Dury, Roxy Music before they started churning out muzak.
A spluttering PA – Bowie sounded like there was fluff on the needle. It required a reset and then we had: “1-2, 1-2” testing.
An amazingly well-written programme – a truly marvellous read – discussing latest setbacks in the club’s bid to return to a new home in Grays (and a page from which I pinched the headline). A level of detail too dense to summarise in a paragraph – but Grays are in a bit of a pickle now that latest plans have been thrown out.
And my favourite tea bar so far, first I’ve ever seen with a neon ‘come and get me’ sign.
Not enough of this around for my money!
Lewes got an early lead via ex-Grays striker Leroy Griffiths.
“He never fucking scored for us,” a home fan griped.
Which wasn’t actually true, the programme reckoned Leroy netted 46 times in 117 games – but you’ve got to get your irritation out of your system somehow.
Lewes controlled the first period and Grays’ best chance came when Lewes nearly headed in to their own goal from a corner but such was the scrum, the linesman was unsighted. No goal given.
After the break, Grays upped their game. Physically unimposing, they have four players with stick insect frames who look like they’d be blown over in a strong wind.
But they’re elusive and skilful. So they play decent passing stuff which isn’t helped by a bobbly pitch that also hosts Aveley’s Ryman North matches.
Joao Carlos got free on the right and crossed for striker Dumebi Dumaka to equalise after 62 minutes.
And then it went all a bit haywire as the ref struggled to keep control.
I haven’t been to many games when perhaps 15 players should have been booked but this was one of them.
Carlos and Lewes No 4 Elliott Rowe dished out and took digs throughout the game with monotonous petulance.
Grays skipper Kenny Beaney tried to pick someone up after being fouled and got shoved. None of this got seen clearly by officials who had to backtrack 60 yards from advancing whingeing players so they could have a chat.
Goals from Lewes subs’ Nick Wheeler and Elliott Romain clinched the win for the Rooks, much against the run of play. Good substitutions by experienced Lewes manager Garry Wilson proving the key. An injection of pace against tiring players was decisive.
But the goals just served to wind up all players and most fans. It was no surprise to read that two Grays players were sent off in the return fixture in Sussex in the autumn.
Everyone and his dog and the corner flags and the teabar neon sign blamed the ref of course. He missed some stuff no doubt – how could he not, sometimes there was too much going on? I’m told God sees everything but he wouldn’t have seen all that went on here. But player skulduggery was largely to blame.
Griffiths was warmly applauded as he left the pitch, which was a nice touch, but the poor ref ravaged with abuse. I imagine he might phone in sick next week. Go shopping perhaps.
A strange end as the Grays’ grumps filed out at the end, that got even stranger from the press box shouted out: “Someone’s been stabbed in the pub in the centre.”
Sure enough, police had cordoned off a hostelry and the buzzing helicopters, visible all day – I figured there was a helipad nearby – were explained.