If Sky Sports bothered to send its cameras as far down as the Isthmian Premier, this would have been the lunchtime kick-off on Shit or Bust Saturday™.
After what has now been officially designated a “wobble”, the Rooks found themselves six points behind the hosts, who occupy the final play-off berth. Defeat would have been season over; a point would have been as much use as a stubbed toe; only a win would do.
Shit or Bust Saturday™ started before we even got to the ground, with the road signs on the M20 giving you one of two choices: tunnel or ferry. Now, fair play, it’s been a couple of years since I last visited Folkestone, but I was almost certain it didn’t involve leaving the country. We gambled on ‘ferry’ and what a gamble it was, with the tunnel queue stretching back about 18 miles. If we’d made the wrong choice, I’d be writing this on my phone from a lay-by in Ashford, trying to convince a lorry driver to share his Pot Noodle.
After a nerves-settling pint in a local micro-pub – endorsed by none other than Dot Cotton from EastEnders – we arrived at the ground.
It’s fair to say some of the away brigade had enjoyed a few Dot Cottons of their own. None more so than The Youth Wing, who arrived in fine voice and soon introduced themselves to the home keeper.
On the field, there was no Tanner, no Reece Murrell-Williamson and no plastic pitch. On the plus side, Razz had shaken off last week’s leg nack and the bench was actually full of players, quashing pre-game rumours that first prize in Barbara’s Raffle would be the no. 15 shirt and a seat next to Tony.
The game got off to a bright start, with Folkestone doing what Folkestone do: getting the ball out wide and lobbing crosses into the box.
It was the Rooks, however, who drew first blood. Dinky Brad Pritchard pinged a lovely ball into the path of Deshane Dalling, who cut inside and shot. His low effort clipped the defender’s heel and trickled into the corner past the keeper, who must have been pre-occupied with learning the names of his new friends in The Youth Wing, because it looked pretty saveable from where I was standing.
Folkestone carried on Folkestoning, and our defence seemed remarkably relaxed that their left wing-back was afforded enough space to host a jazz festival in. Away-end nerves jangled even louder when Nelson was booked for a nothing foul and then gave the ref a mouthful for a subsequent offence moments later, earning himself a stern “last chance” warning with an hour still to play.
Thankfully, our other centre-half eased the pressure. A free-kick from the left was lobbed to the back post, where Michael Bolton tribute act, Will Salmon, was left unmarked. He donked a header back across goal and it seemed to hang in the wind for about a month before dropping in at the far post. Cool. As. You. Like.
Alas, the cruise to a comfortable half-time chinwag was disrupted. Moments before the break, Folkestone romped down the left again, and after a tortuous period of pinball in our box it was bundled over the line. The Rooks back line seem convinced the scorer was offside and Tony tore off his cool box to remonstrate with the officials at half-time, but the goal stood and even The Youth Wing went quiet for a bit.
Shit or Bust Saturday™ continued in the food queue at half-time, with only one homemade sausage roll left at the kiosk.
With no fewer than five pensioners in the queue, my chances of pastry-wrapped glory looked slim, but when Alf in front of me merely ordered three teas, I almost wept with joy.
“That’ll be £3, Alf,” said the woman behind the kiosk. “And can I tempt you with a homemade sausage roll? It’s our last one.”
“Nah, you’re alright Doreen.”
I bloody love you, Alf.
“Are you sure? It’s only £1.50 for season-ticket holders.”
For fuck’s sake, Doreen. The fella doesn’t want your sausage roll. Just drop it, love.
“Oh, go on then.”
There followed a short delay to the restart, while St John’s Ambulance were called to deal with a mental breakdown near the food kiosk.
The second half was sheer, unalloyed tension.
Folkestone dominated possession, smashing the ball into the channels and making our back four work harder than Nigel Farage’s conscience.
Nelson and Salmon were superb, clonking away the balls into the box and making last-ditch challenges, in between verses of How Am I Supposed To Live Without You?
We had the odd chance of our own, none better than when returning sub Ayo Olukoga broke through one-on-one but didn’t quite have the legs to carry himself all the way to goal. Instead he swapped passes with Taylor and tried to lob the keeper, but he dinked it over.
With teeth being ground into dust in the away end, there was one last cardiac moment as Nelson committed a daft foul on the edge of the box and handed the hosts a free-kick. There followed the worst free-kick since the Mesoamericans first kicked a rock around a cave 3,000 years ago, the ball landing somewhere near Dieppe.
The cheer in the away end almost took the roof off. And that was that. Just time for the customary Tom Carlse celebratory fist pumps and a moment to remember Derrick Parris, who would have shuffled into the boardroom, shaken hands with the home officials and have enjoyed the post-match tipple with a broad smile on his face.
Lewes: Carey, Yao, Salmon, Nelson, Carlse, Klass, Pritchard, Pettit, Coleman De-Graft, Dalling, Taylor
Subs: Spencer, Phipp, Maloney, Olukoga, Addy