The Season opener

Road rage on the way to Haywards Heath for the first league game of the season.

Driving along the picturesque route from Balcombe I ran into half a dozen motorists squeezing onto the grass verge in what looked like an effort to kill everyone who came after them.

It’s my usual way to assume this is a personal attack, and my yelling told them so, even if they couldn’t hear it. Then, as I drove past, I realised they were stopping to see the Ouse Valley viaduct and I wanted to stop too. But I felt stupid and was worried there were lip readers among the people I’d driven past. I pressed on.

I’d learned from previous trips to Hayward’s Heath that you need to get there at least an hour early to stand any chance of nabbing a parking spot.

Even with my standard hour early arrival time, there were only a few spots left by the corner flag. I’d seen this team’s shooting and this made me nervous. And so the first pre-season nerves had nothing to do with football.

Pre-season nerves had nothing to do with football

But what a feeling on the first day of the season.

By now I’d sent my 14-page Sevenoaks report to the manager, which I was convinced would overload our team with so much written information and diagrams that they couldn’t lose. More on that later.

I took my usual spot at the back of the stand, took out my camera and notebook, and got to work.

So, what does work mean exactly?

Well, I have a small handheld camera that makes a reasonable video of the game. That’s my left hand occupied for the rest of the game. With my right hand I takes notes on what’s going on.

On a basic level that means how they attack, how they defend, and how they transition into each of those phases during the game. You also do what you can to note set piece details, as well as notes on individual players.

All that sounds straight forward enough, but it’s easier said than done. Which is why I record the game to watch again later. For now, anyhow.

The line ups: Haywards Heath vs East Grinstead Town

Just after kick off the under-10s mascots arrived.

A whole team of them, drunk on pop and their appearance on the pitch with the players, they cheered relentlessly for 90 minutes. A clever mix of terrace chants and the type of biting insults kids their age can get away with.

The home fans put up with them, partly because it was quite an impressive noise, but also due to the shock of seeing their team playing so well. A goal up at half time, Gil Carvalho got two more in the second half to seal the win and make East Grinstead, our next opponents, look quite ordinary.

Which made me feel optimistic as I packed up and headed back to my unscathed car by the corner flag. But this is also the moment you get your phone out, find the league app, and check the score of your own team.

It’s impossible to separate your team’s performance from the report you’ve put together. So news we’d lost to Sevenoaks Town 1-2 was a bit of a blow.

I’ve thought a lot about what influence the opposition scout has on the results of a game and spoken to professional scouts about the same thing. At best I’d say it makes maybe a 2 percent difference? Something like that. It’s the manager who has the hard job of how a team plays. But you can’t help thinking there’s a responsibility to help.

But that doesn’t seem to stop the feeling of crushing failure, and the now three-stage process that starts Saturday night.

Stage one: That’s enough, I’m packing this in.

Stage two: Maybe if I paid more attention I could do better next time.

Stage three: Get stuck into the next report.

Thankfully stage three comes into view before Sunday morning. But on the drive home I was still well and truly in stage one. Nobody was parked up near the aqueduct. But I was swearing anyway.

Haywards Heath Town v East Grinstead Town
Saturday 14 August 2021
Score: 3-0