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Easter Saturday. It is sunny. The game starts within an hour. I reluctantly leave home. There are so many other things I could be doing. Bishop’s Stortford FC, please prove me wrong.

Even in case, the game does not deliver, I can still enjoy the view. I have just found the positive experience of going out to the game. Let’s not jinx it, shall we? 

As it is my first ever trip to the stadium, I roughly know the way. I get lost a few times but find my way back. I even find a fan heading in the same direction. At least I think we walk the same way…

Yes. Tailgating does the trick. I find the stadium. It is located in the middle of an industrial zone. No signage is visible anywhere. 

The parking lot is just outside the ground. There are 2 categories of spaces: asphalt spaces and a dusty road. In case you choose the latter, please do not get your best white trainers. BTW: I wonder how comfortable it must be to park here in winter? 

I find the stadium. Now, let’s find the place to buy and collect the ticket.

I meet two distinguished gentlemen who direct me to join the line. When I ask them whether there is a price variance according to the stands, they suspiciously look at me and ask, “Are you a Potters Bar Fan”? To my surprise, I am told that ‘what I believe to be a comfortable padded seat’, moneywise, is worth the same as the standing sector. 

I pay for the entrance by card, which is a nice surprise. The elderly doorman pauses me and talks me into buying a raffle ticket and a matchday programme. This time cash only. As I don’t carry any money on me, except for a plastic card, I nicely decline the offer. 

I am already inside the ground. Let’s be honest. There is absolutely nothing impressive to see. No signage. The paint coat peels off.  It is one rusty, run-down facility. The stadium is divided into 4 zones, but the open concourse allows the fans to move freely. As far as I am concerned, the place does not dazzle. I feel as if the time stopped here in the early 1980s.

I have found the bar. It looks grey and sad. It is spacious yet cold and empty. It lacks style. It lacks Bishop’s Stortford Memorabilia. There is no signage.  The people behind the bar seem to be bored with their jobs. Sad expressions, no smile. No interaction. Human automatons.

The pints are half flat. They are topped up when fans decide to order them. This is not the quality of service and the quality of drinks I have been accustomed to. 

Anyway, my objective is to taste all aspects of the game. Which alcoholic beverage to choose? Let’s get a pint of Guinness. It seems to be the only one that has not been prepared beforehand…

Wait. Hold on. Has the bar associate just poured Guinness at one go with the nozzle being submerged into the pint? OK. I think I will go for Shipyard Ale in that case. 

Excuse me? How much for a half flat pint? £6? What a rip off! 

Beverages have been tested. Now it is time to hit catering and food options. The food is served in a rusty metal box by a married couple. The man catches my eye. For the wrong reason. He is wearing a white t-shirt. There are greasy spots all over it.  I very quickly learn that I, unfortunately, jumped to conclusions too early, and the van man is a great person to talk to. Having learnt that it is my first ever game at the venue he says he will make the best burger for me. Cost? Only £4. Unfortunately, I cannot pay by card (apparently there was a poor reception) and cash is the only method of payment. I need to cancel my order due to a lack of cash. Yet, the vendor smiles and says ‘It is your lucky day. Take it for free. It is our last day here. We find it extremely difficult to run business with these difficult people at the club. The burger with cheese and onion is on us’. Loved this guy’s attitude. Loved the burger much less. 

beer at football match

I am a simple man who cannot multitask. It is either a burger or a pint. So, I leave the pint on the floor. When I pick it up, I see the bottom it is all in birds dropping. I think it is time to get another drink.

If you are still with me, let me show you I am not a 100% wet blanket. My pitch view is stunning.  I cannot complain. 

It is almost halftime. Bishop’s leads by 2 goals. The game reminds me of early Atari tennis games. Total pinball. I have not expected it to be…that attractive. 

The home side manager seems to have a different opinion. Around the 44th minute, when the opposing side had a crucial set-piece, he simply took his mobile phone out of the pocket and started scrolling the screen. Has he been searching for City – LFC score (they are playing in FA Cup Semi)?

I am heading back to the bar. Not for the pint, but to investigate the halftime social life. And it looks surreal. The raffle man approaches every individual and asks them whether they are the lucky winner. 

The 15-minute break drags forever. It gives me shivers. I already know I don’t want to be there anymore. Bloody assignment.

The second half kicks off. This time I decide to do what the locals do. I move around the stadium to experience the view from each angle. And let me tell you, it is something worth coming for. 

Firstly, I sit behind the goal. It is so close that you feel the part of the game. You hear all the instructions, all the interactions. The local goalie becomes my ‘true hero’. He coordinates his defensive line with ease and finds time to praise the ref for his offside decisions. 

The announcer spits out the number of supporters. 458 people are watching the decisive game that might give the local team the advantage of playing playoff games at home. It is kind of sad that the club cannot, does not want, or does not know how to attract more fans. Or maybe they try but the fans are as picky as I am? The capacity of the ground is 4,000. The utility ratio is about 10%. Awful figures for the semi-pro-organisation that reported a £330,000 loss the previous season. 

And the announcer is still searching for a raffle winner. Ticket ‘37’.

Free access to all sectors allows me to watch the game from different angles. But it also shows the decay of the facility. 

To my surprise, the food stall closes just after the kick-off. Does it mean the families don’t need to be fed throughout the game? To me, it is a financial wasted opportunity. 

I find a quiet place to gather my thoughts and give a quick opinion about my experience.

It is 15 minutes to a final whistle. I pop into the bar the last time. I introduce myself and tell what I do. I offer help and leave my contact number. I look at the screen. LFC are leading 2:0 in the semi-final against City. I turn my head with envy. I know I belong to big events. Bishop’s Stortford game is not one of them. 

PS. I am still waiting for a phone call. 

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