Did somebody say that there's a modern football ground out there that doesn't look like the generic Football Manager templates? I think so- and it's here at Arbour Park! Yes, the final leg of yet another classic Partizan Bristle/Pint of Football crossover was upon us and having just finished up in Bracknell, where we'd seen Tibet lost 1-5 to Kárpátalya, we now found ourselves just on the north side of the M4 in the Berkshire town of Slough and it was in aid of the final Group D game and arguably the closest one to call of our weekend, Panjab versus the United Koreans in Japan. Before the match started, UKJ sat in third place in the table with two points from two 0-0 draws, yup, meanwhile Panjab were one point and position above the Koreans having started off their campaign with an 8-0 win before slumping to a 0-1 defeat against group toppers Western Armenia. Well before we arrived I'd already gone for a prediction of a third consecutive 0-0 for the team who were being player-managed by former North Korean FIFA World Cup star Yong Hak An. Tom was feeling at least one goal in the game and went for a 0-1 prediction that would have seen UKJ leapfrog Panjab. His prediction was based on the fairly pedestrian display he'd seen with me at the end of April as they lost 1-2 to Ellan Vannin at Sanbach.
This entry is going to remain short and sweet on this occasion as the game itself didn't really have much to say for itself. The optimists would say it was a tense and tactical affair, whereas I prefer to say that it lacked the cutting edge. Either way, we parked up and met in the queue for the entrance to newly promoted Slough Town's ground and as soon as I entered the impressive National League South setup I turned to Tom and exclaimed that it was like being inside a mini Fylde. The main stand was superbly built and had an incredible shape to it, much like that of Mill Farm, and although this was obviously the proud result of the local council's funding I was much happier to turn up here than I was when I went to Billericay! In my opinion, clubs like Slough and Fylde who grow in a steady form over time are much better for our game than those clubs who just bung a load of money into a squad and then use the change to fund projects to improve their facilities. Anyway, enough non-league politics, we're here for the CONIFA World Cup.
It has been great to see such well attended games at this tournament so far and although sometimes it has been filled with nerdy groundhoppers like myself and media bods, there has certainly been no lack of support from each and every nation that I've seen. Before the tournament I'd picked Ellan Vannin and Tuvalu as my sides to get behind, but after seeing some great football from Kárpátalya and falling in love with the Tibetan cause I feel as though I'm just supporting everyone now. The Panjabi faithful were out for the game in Slough and as a keen follower of Sporting Khalsa in the Midlands Premier League I was gonna be cheering on the side in yellow for this crunch game.
As with Bracknell before, Slough Town's clubhouse was very posh and with two amazing features- it had it's own pint (just like Larges Lane) and more significantly it was air conditioned. Oooof, I cannot describe the relief. Both sides arrived on the pitch promptly as Tom and I peered through the giant windows of the bar and a little after 6pm the match kicked-off. With all of the pessimism of predicting a low score, the start of the game certainly suggested it would be anything but that as a penalty was awarded in the 2nd minute of the match. It looked a soft decision by David Murphy in my opinion, but it wouldn't be the softest by a long shot as Rushall Olympic's Gurgit Singh stood up to take the cake. He tried to play a cocky dinked chip down the centre of the Korean goal and it was read easy enough by the keeper- leaving the Evo-Stik Premier League forward licking his wounds on this occasion. From then on the half remained fairly sombre and despite a few Korean chances, with a 33rd minute Tong Jun Lee header going wide from just 6-yards out, it would remain goalless as predicted going into the break. By this stage we'd had a good walk around the impressive ground, taken a few snaps, debated an ice-cream and then watched as the rain descended upon on us for the first time in the tournament.
We consumed most of the second-half from our indoors windowed seats in the bar and we saw the best moment of the game so far just after the hour as Ken Taniyama's left-wing cross swings its way on to the woodwork and looked to bounce twice off the top of the crossbar before going out for a Panjab goal-kick. We got into the last 15 minutes with the game still at stalemate and for the second time in the match the Ref pointed for a Panjab penalty. This time it would be Amar Purewal of West Auckland Town who slotted it home to a huge relief from the crowd and indeed my own sanity. Panjab 1-0 UKJ. After going over 250 tournament minutes without conceding, young goalie Hyo Geum Lim had finally conceded and it was probably going to be the goal that saw his side lose all hope of qualifying for the Quarter-Finals. But hope is never lost, as they say, and we were about to see the goal of the tournament so far. Hang on in there lads.
With pressure building we entered the 93rd minute and as the ball came to Su Hyeon Mun the FC Korea man made his mark on the tournament with a flicked turn past a Panjab player before a cracking 20-yard bouncing pile-driver on the half-volley, which flew past Yousuf Ijaz Butt and sparked some relieved glory for the United Korean bench. Injured Player-Manager Yong Hak An threw his ice pack to the ground and ran on to the pitch to join the cheers. Panjab 1-1 UKJ. As the Ref finally calmed An down and got everybody back in place, the match restarted momentarily before the final whistle blew, sending Panjab into a mouthwatering Quarter-Final tie against Padania this afternoon, meanwhile UKJ must now face Tuvalu in a game where they will surely finally find their goalscoring boots. For Pint of Football it'll be a busy one again today as I start the day with the 3pm match at Enfield for the all-African tie, Matabeleland v Kabylia, before going to the only Essex club to host a CONIFA World Cup match, Aveley. That one will be fought between Tamil Eelam and Abkhazia, two teams I've seen lose already so far against Barawa and Kárpátalya respectively.
|It'll look amazing when it stops being so pristine|
|Another great attendance for this one|
|The view from the clubhouse- not too shabby|
|Never have grey clouds been so welcome|
|Anyone fancy a stoppage time belter?|
|Cheers Slough, maybe see you in the Football League one day|