National League South Sat 29 April SO Legal Community Stadium
Eastbourne Boro
Concord Rangers

A week earlier, the Sports had seen their play-off hopes slip away in a 0-2 defeat at Braintree Town. Hard to take, after such a whole-hearted and exciting campaign. And less than 48 hours earlier, Concord – 83 minutes into their sixth game in twelve days – led Havant 3-2 for a potential victory that would keep their survival hopes alive.

It wasn’t to be. Havant nicked that game 4-3 and the Beachboys were down. And so we all shrugged our shoulders, cursed our luck, and rounded off the season with a match that meant nothing. Fortunately, non-league football is full of seasoned philosophical folk who know it isn’t war, know that their lads will still play their hearts out, and know that the bar is open after the game.

There was, ironically, a huge buzz of activity around the ground. The clubhouse had been noisily alive with Amelie and Sophia’s Great Big Coffee Morning – and that remarkable pair raised another £1230 for St Wilfrid’s Hospice. Next stop Wembley for the Cup Final sisters, and this football club is with you every step of the way.

At the gates, the Borough Under-8s, in their proud team strip, were in full voice and on intravenous adrenalin as they geared up to be match mascots. And inside the ground, the SO Legal Community Stadium was ready to welcome yet another bumper crowd – over 1400 – for one last fling at the season we really didn’t want to end.

Danny Bloor, finally spoilt for choice with a virtually full squad, restored Greg Luer up front and gave a starting shirt to talented youngster Jay Beckford, replacing Shiloh Remy. Shiloh was on the touchline to receive his hugely merited Player of the Season award: a young man who has lit up game after game. 

An early flurry earned the visitors a couple of corners, but it was the Sports who should have been ahead in just the third minute, Leone Gravata carving his own opening but, from the tightest of angles, blazing his shot high and not very handsome. After Leone’s outstanding season, terrorising defences week after week, we’ll forgive him that one….

Jack Burchell – yet another huge success story, emerging in the second half of this season – was busier in the Concord half than in his own, combining again and again with Beckford to prise open the Beachboys’ defence. Midway through the first half, he played in Greg Luer, who finessed past the centre-backs but was denied by giant keeper Moitch Beeney, saving with his feet.  

With another Gravata run behind the opposing defence, but nobody on the end of the cut-back, Concord were living precariously but surviving, and the game reached half-time goalless.

But turning around to attack the Mick Green End, the home forwards finally got their reward in the first four minutes after the interval. First, a right-wing corner produced some panicky pinball in front of the Rangers goal before Luer swept in a low shot at the back post for 1-0.

And within a couple of minutes, the lead was doubled with an exhilarating goal. From a Concord corner, Kai innocent – another Borough player back to his best form recently – brought the ball out and swept a wonderful pass to Morgan Williams. The Wimbledon loanee – who has played far beyond his 18 years in this splendid loan spell – timed his run to beat any offside flag, met Kai’s pass and with two perfect touches raced forward to play a ball across to Charlie Walker.

Pounding in from the left, the Borough skipper took the pass in his stride, checked past a flailing defender, and shot sweetly into the right-hand corner of the net. A goal to light up any football ground, any time, any level. National South is quality – and that’s why 1400 people a week are coming through our turnstiles…

Chris Whelpdale came off the bench to give Walker a breather, and was soon gliding past defenders as if he’d never been away. We were all in the mood for more goals…

…and it was Concord who obliged! After Big Man Beeney had produced a brave double save to deny Gravata and Whelps, the powerful Nana Kyei took a neat reverse pass from his captain Jack Thomas, checked in from wide left, and curled a beauty across Lee Worgan and inside the back post. Great stuff.

Did we say the result didn’t matter?  It always matters, and every player out there was putting in a shift. Leone certainly was making every minute count, exchanging smart passes with Williams before angling a low shot that Beeney saved well. And then, sprinting in from the left, Gravata played an electric one-two with substitute Luke Pearce before clumsy challenges brought down both of the Borough forwards! Belt and braces for referee Tom Ellsmore, who duly gave the penalty.

This may have been Leone’s season – but it wasn’t quite his day. Stepping up from 12 yards, he struck the spot kick too close to Mitch Beeney, who got down well to smother it. The Essex side, still refusing to roll over, then struck the Borough crossbar through substitute Joe Burton – but that was as close as Concord came to an equaliser.

And on balance, the Eastbourne victory was well merited. Handshakes all round, and an enjoyable afternoon. Dr Johnson evidently said “If a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.” For London, read National South football. When do the close-season friendlies start?  

Thanks, Danny and your staff. Thanks, the lads in red and black. You have trained with dedication, played with skill and speed and intelligence and heart. You have travelled the breadth of the country, covered every inch of every pitch, and given everything for the cause. You have brought us enjoyment, excitement, broad smiles, and even a very few rueful groans.  We salute you.

Borough: Worgan; Burchell, Barry, Dickenson, Innocent; Hammond, Williams; Beckford (Pearce 66), Walker (Whelpdale 50), Luer (Wabo 86). Unused subs: Vaughan, Bartley.

Referee: Tom Ellsmore     Att: 1407

Borough MoM:  Mitch Dickenson