The fans return to Silverlake for crunch match with Boreham Wood.
Last Saturday, the turnstiles at the Silverlake Stadium turned for the first time in 168 days as Eastleigh FC welcomed back 1,500 fans for the visit of Boreham Wood FC.
Fans of Eastleigh FC, like so many others around the country, have been starved of live football. Eastleigh’s previous and only home encounter in front of a Spitfires crowd this season was back in early December when Maidenhead United sealed a 0-1 victory at the Silverlake.
Since that defeat, Eastleigh, of the Vanarama National League, have kept in touch with the play-off pack meaning hopes of playing League Two football next season, albeit thin, are still alive. For the returning fans, not only was this a final home game of the season farewell (with two away fixtures remaining), but any chance of making the play-offs depended on Eastleigh sealing all three points against Boreham Wood.
The stakes were high!
The clouds were dark and grey as they overcast the fans beginning to arrive at the Silverlake Stadium, but there was a buzz of excitement and anticipation among the supporters heading for the turnstile entrances. Most of whom, had not seen Eastleigh do battle in over a year.
Eastleigh supporters Sam (22) and Charlie (20) were at the Silverlake Stadium. “We went to a game towards the end of last season so we haven’t been here for a while, but it is so good to return” Sam says, smiling.
“We’ve missed the food too! But also, we have really missed the match day atmosphere here, which is unparalleled. There is a nice community vibe here too”
Spitfires fans Caz (24) and Seb (27) were also returning to watch Eastleigh after a long absence from the terraces. “The last match we see here was over a year ago, a game last season” says Caz, and Seb continues “Coming here is our weekend thing. It’s the one thing we have that we know we are going to do every weekend so not having that has been kind of sad really.”
The indecisive weather that preceded kick-off meant that once you’d squeezed through the ‘old school’ turnstile and onto the terrace, the first thing that hits you is the smell of fresh turf mixed with a fragrance you only get from summer rain. This is before the smell of burgers and chips take over, curtesy of the ‘Spitfire Grill’ refreshments bar.
The electronic scoreboard that overlooks the pitch from the North stand displayed 0-0, impatiently waiting for a goal whilst the 1,000 or so green seats that fill the South Stand were mostly covered in cobwebs; nature’s nod to the sad reality that these seats have been unoccupied for far too long.
With a playoff place clearly in reach for Eastleigh, the gravitas of the fixture was not lost on the fans. “Today’s game is massive!” says Sam.
“A win here would put us into the play-offs so it is huge. I think, what is so special about it is how, due to the Super League situation that happened, local football is now even bigger and more important than ever so we support them (Eastleigh) as much as we can. And if we can get into the play-offs and even go up, it would be insane!”
Caz adds “We need to win! There is no doubt about it. We’ve got one game in hand but we still need to win. We were so close two seasons or so ago.”
The importance of the fixture was also not lost on the Eastleigh players. After a low-key first half, and despite the second half brilliance of Boreham Wood goalkeeper Nathan Ashmore, Eastleigh claimed all three points thanks to a stoppage time penalty which was calmly slotted home by ‘man of the match’ Joe Tomlinson.
Stoppage time winner!
Cue the noise! And cue the drums from the East stand!
The stadium erupted with the sound every football fan once took for granted yet, after not celebrating a goal for so long, our senses now tell us to absorb it differently; to cherish hearing that noise, and savour that feeling for a little bit longer than we used to.
Eastleigh FC 1 – 0 Boreham Wood FC
As well as the sights, sounds and smells of a football stadium on matchday, if the return of (a version of) football normality ever needed validation then the half-time 30-plus queue stretching away from the ‘Spitfire Grill’ certainly confirmed it.
To sum up the experience at the Silverlake Stadium, it was: Traditional, 3pm Saturday afternoon football filled with play-off jeopardy, last minute drama, and most significant and importantly of all… loud and noisy fans.
Just how we like it.