Saturday 22nd October 2011 ko 3.00pm
FA Vase 1st Round
COWES SPORTS 3 (Insley 52 57 Williams 87)
GILLINGHAM TOWN 0 Ben Salem sent off 24 (2nd booking-both dissent)
The idea for this one was Chris Berezai’s. He discovered that Red Funnel do a group off-peak discount on the Sea Cat from Southampton to Cowes. The “group” bit is as little as two, so a return ticket was just a shade over £15.00 for the both of us! What a bargain!
From the harbour it was a 10 minute walk up the hill to Reynolds Close, and Westwood Park. And what a ground it is, with the modern clubhouse, and best of all that stand. Built in the twenties in a weekend, by shipyard workers, yes it does have a number of pillars, but is an icon for a really friendly club. You really do forget you’re watching a club 6 promotions from the football league, they are so well organised and appointed. From Mick the mic on the PA through to the ladies working the tea bar, this was friendly club, who seemed genuinely pleased to host neutrals from Long Eaton and Oxford. Mind you Mick did initially pronounce the visitors’ name with a soft “G.” Its an easy mistake to make, but this is the Gillingham from Dorset, not Kent (Oxford United were playing there by the way), and he was quickly put right. Cowes, like their visitors are in 7th position in a step 6 league, so the match had the potential to test the relative strengths of the Wessex and Western leagues.
The game will be remembered I suspect for the pivotal moment after 20 minutes. Benjani Ben Salem thought he’d opened the scoring for Gillingham, but was judged to have kicked the ball out of keeper Norris’ hands. Ben Salem took great offence at this, and was booked for dissent. Play restarted but it was clear that the red mist had well and truly descended, and he responded to some cat-calls from the stand by raising the rigid digit. The linesman flagged and he was sent off. He walked towards the stand, forgetting the players’ entrance is to its right. The cat-calls continued, and instead of simply heading in the correct direction, he hopped the perimeter fence and headed up the stairs to have it out with his tormentors. He was quickly grabbed by his teammates and led to the showers.
The trouble was, lacking a forward Gillingham were now more than happy to take the fixture to a replay and dug in accordingly. That’s not to say the game wasn’t entertaining, the glowering figure of Ben Salem , sulking near the tea bar at the very least made you wonder what would happen next, but I was slightly relieved when Craig Insley finished beautifully twice in 5 minutes, to open the game up nicely. Gillingham fought back, but playing such a high percentage of the game with 10 men proved to be too much of a task, and whilst Darren William’s winner flattered Cowes, I found it hard to begrudge them their win or the margin, because for all the wonderful attributes of the ground, it was the people who made our day so memorable.
There was still enough time for Ben Salem to make a still bigger idiot of himself, walking on to the pitch at the end to remonstrate with the referee. He was lucky to escape another red card. The referee’s report will be worth reading!