Whyteleafe FC

18 Aug

17 August 2013

FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round

Whyteleafe FC 03 v Epsom and Ewell FC 03 (att c.120)

Church Road, WhyteleafeSign

Team Talk. Despite watching Whyteleafe hang around Dulwich’s division for years, I had never ventured to the away fixture at Leafe’s Church Road ground. Shocking really as it’s an easy enough journey. I had an aborted attempt a few seasons back when a fire in the Croydon underpass snarled up traffic for miles. Sadly, I missed the game and Croydon wasn’t totally destroyed. A real lose-lose.

Anyway, last weekend, I finally broke my duck and headed for the deepest, darkest fringes of Pigeon Stand country to see check out the Leafe. It was the start of the FA Cup journey for most teams and a Kent (sorry, Southern Counties East) League vs Combined Counties League clash of nearly-titans was as close to a glamour tie as anyone could wish for.

Despite starting life as Whyteleafe Juniors (or possibly Whyteleafe Albion) in the early 20th Century, the current Whyteleafe FC has only been playing since 1946. After progressing through the local intermediate leagues, Leafe moved into the Surrey Senior League in 1958. With the new division came a move to the current Church Lane ground, from a nearby site in Whyteleafe. I had been informed by those more diligent than myself that the grandstand at the original ground currently forms part of a school playground. Being a Saturday in summer recess, I felt fully within my rights to longingly stare into schoolyard without passers-by calling the police; sadly, for all my snooping, I couldn’t see any grandstand.

In 1981, Whyteleafe moved into the Athenian league where they remained for three seasons before a sideways move into the Isthmian League where they survived several boardroom reshuffles including the appointment of the trustworthy-sounding Dave Swindlehurst. 

Trust Me. I’m a Swindlehurst.

Relegation finally ended Leafe’s tenure in the Isthmian in 2012. A fact some of their fans seem to blame exclusively on Dulwich Hamlet. Even after 15 months have lapsed, there are still snipes and digs at the Hamlet, it even makes it into their matchday programme. You see, Dulwich lost to a hardy Burgess Hill Town side whom everyone in Whyteleafe thought would be obliterated in the same manner they usually were by the Pink and Blue Wrecking Machine. Sadly (for Whyteleafe), Dulwich never play well at Burgess Hill, so defeat was inevitable. Maybe if Whyteleafe had played better in any one of the 20-odd games they lost, they would have survived without needing our help. Sorry, I digress.

On this FA Cup Saturday, Whyteleafe faced an Extra Preliminary Round match against Epsom and Ewell. As we’ve blogged everyone in the Combined Counties and the Kent League, this was a nice opportunity to catch a glimpse of teams from two of our favourite divisions. 

Park the bus. Getting to Church Road is easy. A 40 minute train ride from London Bridge will get you to anyone of Whyteleafe’s three stations within a 10 minute walk. Parking is strictly limited so coming by public transport strongly advised, more so even than usual.

Homefield advantage. Church Road has somewhat of a Territorial Army feel to it. Next to an allotment in the Surrey countryside, a sunken campus of scaffolding and crudely erected outbuildings suddenly creep up on you. Warnings of foul and abusive language are the first thing that greet you. They might be bitter, but they’re a polite bunch.

Watch your mouth!

Watch your mouth!

At first, it’s a bit disorientating, the turnstiles are flush with the perimeter wall and aren’t immediately obvious unless there’s a queue (there wasn’t) so, as in all times of confusion, I headed for the outbuilding marked “Bar”. Cheering is not something I long to hear approaching a non-league bar, it usually means someone is watching the premier league. Right enough, some guy was watching the Liverpool game, luckily he was alone and everyone else was deep in Whyteleafe-based conversation. A few minutes ahead of kickoff I headed for the turnstiles.SONY DSC

The ground itself is a real gem. Two covered terraces and two seating areas. The main stand was unlike any other I’ve encountered, made entirely of concrete and whilst it needed a good lick of paint, continued that sturdy look of a military training base.SONY DSC

The Gold Aviation Stand is without question the signature stand at Church Road. Built around a slope, it holds an array of burgundy seats (I’m guessing from a league ground somewhere), a tea bar and the dressing rooms. All comfortably above pitch level. The elevated dressing room and “tunnel” is unique in Pigeon Stand country and as they players ran out to the sound of ‘Welcome to the Jungle’, I started to get the feeling that Church Road should really get into the business of hosting boxing matches. What an entrance.

Welcome to the Jungle

Welcome to the Jungle

Almost dead on 3pm, the heavens opened and I took shelter in the stand opposite the Gold Aviation stand. I was taken by the number of boardroom staff at Whyteleafe and how none of them took their ceremonial spot in the main stand, instead choosing to mix with us mortals. I’d like to think they got the idea from Chairman Jack Payne at Dulwich.

As the rain subsided and I continued my walk around the round, I saw evidence of some structural damage to a breeze block wall. Had the Dulwich Young Team (the Warly Posse from nearby Warlingham) who had been wrongfully accused of wall-based damage during the Dulwich fiasco at Leatherhead, actually been practicing on Church Road ahead of their visit to Fletcham Grove? Surely not. Although I’m surprised the Leatherhead board didn’t try that line of enquiry.wallgate

Once I’d settled in a covered terrace on the sideline, I had time to notice that there were a lot of fine moustaches kicking around the crowd. My favourite, an old boy reminiscent of Fawlty Tower’s Major. A great look and stern competition for Chessington and Hook’s Swiss Toni.

Me and the Major

Me and the Major

Prawn sandwiches. The Whyteleafe bar, was the 2012 Sporting Club of the year. Not sure how you get that title, but in fairness, it was a top bar. Two handpumps, coffee and crisps on offer as well as club merchandise displayed behind glass in a museum-style cabinet. This bar really was attacking sales on every front.trophy

Inside the ground was a more conventional club shop selling a “large selection” of badges and boxes upon boxes of programmes. It was jolly good and whilst the large selection of badges turned out to be a little small, the range was exceptional, focussing entirely on non-league clubs. Terry’s Badges, it ain’t but if every you need an Esh Winning or Winterton Rangers badge, this is the place to be. To show that no hard feelings existed between Dulwich fans and Whyteleafe (especially as there’s a whole division between us), I purchased a rather splendid Whyteleafe badge, remorseful that Dulwich don’t delve back into the badge-selling game.

The tea bar was precariously positioned adjacent to the toilets, one wrong move and it could all be so different. As the weather had taken a turn for the worse, I decided that it was time for an early season Bovril. It was, as it always is, just the ticket. I once tried to explain Bovril to an American at an NFL game, it wasn’t easy but that’s what makes Bovril awesome; the fact it’s basically cheap gravy but it’s so so so much more.

Life-giving beefy goodness

Life-giving meaty goodness

…and the game. Three games presented themselves to me on FA Cup saturday: Met Police vs Dulwich at Imber Court, Clapton vs Stanway in Forest Gate with Damon from the Real FA Cup and others in the blogging fraternity, or Whyteleafe. In the end, convenience and the three previous nights on the drink made Whyteleafe the winner. Of the three games, this was the only one with any goals. It had six of them, the vast majority being early goal-of-the-season candidates.

Whyteleafe opened the scoring with a well taken header by Jenson Grant, a big powerful midfielder who has the potential to play at least step 4 football, if not slightly higher. Epsom’s equaliser came after about 30 mins with a wonder goal from Freddie Myrers who hit a dipping, curling shot from the apex of the box.

GOAL!

GOAL!

Whyteleafe, all eyes on Wembley Way, hit back with two goals two minutes just before half-time. Firstly, centre back captain Jason Thompson, who unlike the other son of Surrey who bares his initials, slotted a penalty away with the greatest of ease. Then came a well worked goal tapped away big Gareth Williams.

After the the half-time break (which started excellently with ‘Geno’ by Dexy’s over the Tannoy), Epsom came out all guns blazing. They looked like a determined bunch and on 50 minutes made it 3-2 with a brilliant individual goal by Kyle Hough. If history is kind, it will point to Michael Owen vs Argentina, Gazza vs Aberdeen and Hough vs Whyteleafe. High on Wondergoals, Epsom continued to chip away at Whyteleafe and with around half an hour to go, finally leveled things up after the ball somehow found its way to Epsom’s Reece Jackson after some tireless Leafe defending.

Whyteleafe then found their rhythm, pounding the Epsom and Ewell goal for the rest of the game. In the last five minutes, the hit the crossbar, forced a finger-tip save and worked the ball to Gareth Williams countless times only to see shots saved or blasted over. The frustration was such that one of the Leafe board members had to go for a sit down in between attacks.Match

In the end it finished 3-3 and whilst a case could be made for a draw being the correct result, Whytleafe fans might feel a tad aggrieved not to have got the win.

Man of the match. The Extra Preliminary Round of the FA Cup is the very best time to watch the cup. A meeting of nearly 400 clubs who in reality won’t see the 3rd Qualifying Round, let alone the 3rd Round Proper but it’s where all that “Romance of the Cup” stuff that the media churn out every January actually counts for something.

A child in a Chelsea kit marvels at adults' enthusiasm for cup football

A bemused Chelsea supporting child questions everyone’s appetite for domestic cup football

Call it irony, call it blind hope, but the act of making tin-foil replicas of the FA Cup is one of the absolute best things about the cup. As Whyteleafe is one of the cradles of the Non League Day campaign, I was hopeful that someone would get the baco-foil out and happily, I was not disappointed as a group of lads had lovingly crafted a fine fine FA Cup. Hopefully for their sake, they’ll get another round to wave it around.

Post-match rubdown. I must admit, I’ve not been the biggest fan of Whyteleafe in the past due mostly to some fairly terrible attitudes I’ve encountered on the Dulwich Hamlet Forum. However, they seem to be in the minority and of the fans I met on saturday, all seemed thoroughly decent. Importantly John Fowler has also got them playing some attractive football.

As a club, I was heartened to see an range of ages in attendance, not just kids with their grandparents but the all important 20-40 year old crowd who drink more, buy merchandise and bring others along with them. The kind of crowd that has helped attendance at Dulwich Hamlet increase by 160% in 3 years. If Whyteleafe continue to make inroads in their Palace and Chelsea heartlands – which, of course, will be helped by a return to the Isthmian League – they could soon be a force to be reckoned with. Early adopters, you have been warned. Get down to Church Road.SONY DSC

Imber Court (Met Police FC)

6 May

30 April 2013

London Senior Cup Final

Kingstonian FC 01 vs Bromley FC 02 (att 469)

Imber Court, Thames Ditton KT8Imber

Pre-match warm-up. “What makes a man turn neutral? Is it a lust for gold? Power? Or were you just born with a heart full of neutrality?” The words of Captain Zapp Brannigan rang loudly in our ears as we disembarked our train in the suburbs of South West London. We didn’t care. After three years of near constant must-win football matches at Dulwich, a hearty bout of neutral football was exactly what the doctor ordered.

After Dulwich’s majestic championship victory over Maidstone, Leatherhead’s craftsmanship and the entire Isthmian Executive Board (Fuck you Alan Turvey. Who’s laughing now???) our love of the beautiful game has never been so full of lustre and vim. So the opportunity to watch a real east vs west London Senior Cup Final between two of our favourite South London clubs (outside of Dulwich, of course) was not something we’d want to miss.

Team Talk. We feel like we’ve got somewhat of a special connection between both of these clubs. Kingsmeadow was the very first ground we blogged, albeit a game featuring their squatters-cum-landlords, AFC Wimbledon before we returned to co-incidentally cover a Kingstonian London Senior Cup game last year. Bromley’s Hayes Lane has also received the Pigeon Stands’ treatment and we were more than a little enamoured by their fondness for signage. However, it was a previous trip to Hayes Lane in the winter of 2010 that first got us thinking about blogging. If anyone is to blame for our self-indulgent babble, it’s Bromley.

Say what you like about Imber Court but with signage like this, no wonder Bromley felt at home

Say what you like about Imber Court but with signage like this it’s no wonder Bromley felt at home

Bromley and Kinstonian have had up and down seasons, with both ending in mid-table obscurity, both would relish the opportunity for a bit of end-of-season glory. Bromley’s path to the final saw a splendid win over Tooting and Mitcham (of course, all victories over Tooting and Mitcham are splendid) and a nerve biting (if not for the football then for the anxious race for the last tube/train) penalty shootout win in the semi final away to Wingate and Finchley.

Kingstonian have seemingly cruised into the final. Wins over Hanwell Town and Dulwich Hamlet (which we’ll skirt over with haste) set up a semi-final with Cray Wanderers. Whilst we’re fond of the Ks, a Hayes Lane derby would have added something to the occasion.

Park the bus. Imber Court is a ball-ache to get to but is not nearly as difficult as it seems on the start of the journey. It’s all about timing. The Ground is located in Thames Ditton, a sort of urban village without the urban or the village. Thames Ditton station and its hourly train service to Waterloo is a 10 minute stroll from the ground. Esher Station is about 15 minutes away through some woods, a pitch and putt golf course. 

Homefield advantage. Imber Court is notorious amongst fans of non-league football as being the ground that the Isthmian executive board and the London FA love to use for their cup finals. This is due entirely to the ground’s hospitality set up and has absolutely nothing to do with convenience for fans or supporter experience. As the Isthmian board (in a rare moment of clarity) decided not to force Dulwich Hamlet and Concord Rangers to schlep across the capital town for the League Cup Final, the Lodnon FA were only too happy to oblige.

When it’s not being used for the wining and dining of non-league football’s top brass, Imber Court is home to the Metropolitan Police Football Club. A team flush with cash and featuring precisely zero policemen. They have built a main stand on forces lottery funding and list Commissioner of the Met on their website alongside the club’s chairman and football board. They attract an average crowd of around 100 supporters who are seemingly oblivious to the vast number of genuine football clubs in the local area. In short Met Police FC are the kind of heavily-bankrolled ghost club that is ruining the Isthmian League. 

Kingstonian fansDespite being a horrible excuse for a club, their ground is not without its charms. Upon arrival, through the pebble-dashed, Mock Tudor faux-opulence of inner-M25 Surrey, you will be greeted by a smashing inter-war brick building that has been criminally been wreathed in a quite vile 1970s extension. This complex is the Met Police Sports Club and acts as the bar for the football ground. Herein lies the problem. The bar is not within the curtilage of the ground. What’s more, no drink can be taken into the ground. If you do manage to sneak a beer in, you’ll be kettled – a hobby of the Met – behind a floodlight with heavily obscured view of the pitch, in fact, you’ll see virtually nothing.

The ground is in good shape with the publically subsidised main stand looming over the pitch. For some reason there appears to be a chimney coming out of the back of it. One can only assume that it’s used to burn evidence. The main stand was full of suits from around the league including the best chairman in football, Jack Payne of Dulwich Hamlet. Although Isthmian Chairman, Alan “#CockPissTurvey” Turvey had decided that he couldn’t be bothered to cheer on his league’s representatives, Kingstonian, as he was presumably too busy devising a plan to screw over Dulwich next year.

Jack (Payne) in the Box

Jack (Payne) in the Box

The only other covered stand is behind the goal nearest the entrance. It’s a fine stand but is overshadowed, literally, by a giant privet hedge which runs around most of the ground. Whilst this doesn’t come close to comparing to the Glebe Park hedge in Brechin, the ornamental gates and all-round high quality topiary was a rare pleasure particularly in Isthmian grounds.Hedge and gatehedge

Prawn sandwiches. As noted above, Imber Court is a dry club despite having one of the largest bars in the division. So big in fact, that it’s split into two. Sadly, on cup final Tuesday, the rozzers decided to disconnect the hand pumps and made us all drink fizzy lager or cider. But it’s not just about the booze here, y’know. There’s Comedy, Jimmy Somerville and UB40 to be enjoyed here. Apparently Billy Ocean played here a few years ago which was pretty brazen of him considering the multiple warnings from the police that telling girls to get “out of my dreams and into my car” would end in a certain custodial sentence. Let’s just hope he wasn’t going to turn up to the next big policeman’s gala at Imber Court. Although, frankly the prospect of a black-tie buffet and some Billy Ocean at half-time was very tempting. Luckily, half-time was full of distractions without the need for a tuxedo. Firstly, the trophy cabinet included the first award to a simian that we’ve spotted at a ground, then the first scratch-card machine we’ve seen at a club. It was hard to tell if this was an upgrade from a fruit machine or not, either way, it was clear that The Old Bill love a gamble round these parts; when their not shooting Brazilians or killing Evening Standard vendors, they’re always having a flutter.

A Gibbon

A Gibbon

Half and half scarves? No thanks.

Half and half scarves? No thanks.

Inside the ground, your options are tea or toilets…

Choices

Choices

We chose tea. However, as we wanted a refreshing brew 10 minutes into the second half, we were too late. The Met take their curfews very seriously and if you want a drink in the second half, you’re shit out of luck but with a bit of local knowledge, you can get the guys at Domino’s Pizza to throw a Pepperoni Passion over the hedge. 

pizza

The toilets, I’m pleased to report, stayed open all game.

…and the game. We came to Imber Court in the hunt of an enticing match between two teams looking to end middling seasons with a bit of silverware. We weren’t disappointed. Bromley – favourites despite a troubling bit of form – started brightly taking the lead within 2 minutes with a neat finish from Elliott Buchanan. Kingstonian came into the game but seemed unable to get a shot off. Bromley looked clinical and capitalising on from an unpenalised foul, they doubled their lead on 38 minutes with a breakaway goal from Aaron Rhule.

For the rest of the game, Kingstonian looked like the far superior side and challenged hard, especially after Orome was sent off for fouling the immensely talented Jamil Okai who was clean in on goal. Okai caused the Bromley defence trouble all game long and was finally rewarded for his efforts in injury time. Disappointingly for Kings, it came too late and Bromley just held on to lift the cup. A miracle for any team featuring Sanchez Ming.match

Man of the match. There were a few contenders for this one. High on the list is @putajumperon, one of the pre-eminent football bloggers in London and jolly nice bloke. To top off his general niceness, he drove us back to Surbiton Station to save us from waiting around at Thames Ditton for ages. A pigeon salute to you, good sir.

Our other contedors came mostly from the Bromley support. We enjoyed the collection of inflatable animals, ranging from Whales to Monkeys. I don’t know for sure whether these were cup final specials or whether they were following the unfortunate trend of somewhat tiresome Dulwich Hamlet “mascot”, Ged the Giraffe who seems to be on show every week. Then there was the immaculately well behaved Bromley dog, hard not to love a non league dog he’s lucky that the Peelers didn’t conscript him for action. Of course, a special mention also has to go to Bromley Manager/Chairman/all round good egg, Mark Goldberg (not to be confused with Goldberg), who still manages to look like a pristinely dodgy second-hand car salesman whilst knocking out some quality football.dog

However, of all the contenders one stood above the rest. Tuesday’s win was the first Bromley’s first trophy since 2003, obviously Tuesday was a time of great joy and excitement. This coud mean just one thing. INVAISON! Sadly for one fan, the emotion of the occaision become too much and as the Lilywhite hoards piled over the fence, this poor guy was left wrestling with a gate be couldn’t open. Fortunately, he made it onto the pitch eventually and when last seen he was in tears on the phone shouting “we won the cup! We won the cup!” Who says the County Cups don’t matter?? Definitely a good way to end 2012-2013.

The eternal struggle of Man vs Gate

The eternal struggle of Man vs Gate

Post-match rubdown. Make no mistake, Imber Court and Met Police FC is an abortion of a football club and ground. If you live nearby, I’d urge you to take a leaf out of @putajumperon’s book and head to any one of about other 15 grounds in the area. That said, if you team is unfortunate enough to make it to a cup final, take a thermos full of gin, admire their magnificent hedge and make the most of a bad situation.LegendPresentation

Cray Wanderers F.C.

8 Feb

Hayes Lane, Bromley

Rymans Premier League

2 January 2013

Cray Wanderers  0    v   Concord Rangers  2 (att 155 )

Entrance

Team talk. So this is the New Year, and I have no resolutions. Well, Death Cab for Cutie, that’s not strictly true as my resolution this year was to put more blog posts up on time. The date of this post about a Cray game we went to early last month speaks volumes about how this commitment is going. Lack of time can hardly be an excuse, as a conspiracy between the weather Gods and non-league refs has meant few games have been played recently due to snow, soggy pitches, broken floodlights, and dodgy walls. Hardly the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse but enough to keep the punters off the terraces of Kingsmeadow, Champion Hill, Eden Park, Croydon Arena, and the like. This dearth of football leaves me longing for the halcyon days of tannoy takeovers, bank holiday doubles, and random trips to watch the football at the Oval.

Established in the 1860s in the villages of St Mary Cray and St Pauls Cray (the Cray twins), Cray Wanderers F.C. ‘aka the Wands’ can lay claim to being the third oldest football clubs in the world. They recently celebrated their 150th anniversary with a tournament that featured two other golden very oldies, Sheffield F.C. and Hallam F.C. Interestingly Cray are also a rare southern example of a team formed by railway workers (on the London to Kent line) – something that seems to be more common up north.

Cray spent much of the early twentieth century switching between London and Kent based leagues. Notable successes in this period included winning the London league three years on the trot between 1956/7 and 1958/9. Settling in the Kent league in 1977, they remained there until they gained promotion to the Isthmian League in 2004. In 2008/9 the beat Pigeon Stand figures of fun the Met Police to earn a further promotion to the Isthmian Premier where they play today. Mixed fortunes for Cray in the 2012/13 season has left them hovering in the mid table area.

Cray currently ground share at Hayes Lane with Bromley after they were unable to meet league requirements and install floodlights at their previous ground in Oxford Road. More details about the old ground can be found on the excellent Grounds for Concern.   Eagle eyed readers of this blog will know that we have written about Hayes Lane before – a more detailed description of the ground can be found here.

…..and the game. The thing that grabs you when you when entering Hayes Lane for a Cray game is how little signage relating to Cray there is. This is odd given how many signs there are knocking around the ground (see previous post).

Even Masini gets a bloody sign

Even Masini gets a bloody sign

The main area given over to Cray is a large temporary building in the far corner of the ground. This serves as a board room and also has a nice little club shop selling club merchandise and also a good range of old programmes (I picked up a Hamlet v Bromley programme from 1988 for 10p).

Cray shed to left of main stand

Cray shed to left of main stand

Board room entrance

Board room entrance

Sneak peak inside booard room... best not ask what goes on in here

Sneak peak inside board room…god only knows!!

Club shed entrance

Club shed entrance

Inside shop

Inside shop

Non league booty

Non league booty

The game itself was pretty poor actually. Cray looked shoddy at the back and highly susceptible to high balls into the box. Concord were no great shakes and 2-0 probably flattered them a bit. Cray were really poor in front of goal and never really looked like scoring.

7

9Post game rub down. It is hard to recommend a visit to see Cray as the experience is as per Bromley, but with less people and (on this occasion) noticeably poorer football. In some instances ground sharing arrangements seem to work well and make economic sense in these times of economic pressure. However, it is genuinely sad to see a historic club like Cray without a proper home. Hopefully we’ll be visiting them at a new home ground sometime soon.  Luckily, this house covered in Christmas decorations was on hand near the ground to cheer us up…..

There is a house behind here somewhere

There is a house behind here somewhere

1011

Chipstead FC

29 Dec

26 December 2012

Ryman League Division 1 South

Chipstead FC 00  v  Dulwich Hamlet 01  (att 124)

High Road, Chipstead

SONY DSC

Team Talk. Christmas is over. 19 years on and I’m still bloody waiting for someone to buy me a proper Tracy Island.

To cheer myself up and to forego further family ‘banter’, we packed ourselves off to the other side of Croydon to see what was going down at Chipstead FC.

The Chips were founded in 1906 as a works club for the builders constructing the nearby Netherene hospital. Times were tough in those early years and much like the current financial struggles of non-league clubs, Chipstead relied on a number of handouts and initiatives to make it from one season to the next. The club used legal and above-board Whist drives to cover the costs; something Dulwich Hamlet should consider if rumours of financial instability persist.

Two seasons ago, the club celebrated 25 years of playing senior football club by finishing in 10th place in Division 1 South, their highest ever league position.

The 1906 Chipstead lads. Not enough moustaches for my liking. (thanks to Chipstead FC for the pic)

The 1906 Chipstead lads. Not enough moustaches for my liking. (thanks to Chipstead FC for the pic)

This season has seen Chipstead once again fighting at the top end of the table. A fine achievement as despite not being particularly well-supported, they also have not gone down the Whitehawk/Crawley Down International Airport/Met Police model of buying their way out of the division without any fans. They are a seemingly well run wee club for the local community.

Their opponents this day were fellow advocates of thrifty success; Dulwich Hamlet. Yes, we are aware that this blog has turned into somewhat of a Hamlet away-days travelogue but when your team are playing a style of football that can only be described as Hot Angry Sex, I wager, you’d struggle to watch other teams as well.

Park the bus. High Road Chipstead is a description more of the ground’s surrounding topography than of its land use. It is remote, 5 miles south of Croydon and in the middle of nowhere. There was a genuine turkey farm opposite the ground and not a Barrett Home in sight.

The nearest station is Chipstead which is about a mile away down a country road. Delightful in the summer, however; in the pissing rain it was less attractive. It’s not often we’ll say this, but drive if you have the option. Clearly lots of people felt the same way as we soon discovered it wasn’t just the drains that had overflowed, it was the parking too.

Homefield advantage. High Road is another one of those odd grounds that seems baffling close to failing the FA’s Ground Grading regulations. There’s a semi-sheltered scaffolding arrangement behind one of the goals which on a normal rainy day would be sufficient but when the weather resembles the rapture, the half-metre gap at the top is most unfriendly.Pigeon Stand

A MAJOR defect in the Pigeon Stand

A MAJOR defect in the Pigeon Stand

Located next to the stand is an area of uncovered seating, more conventionally referred to as a park bench. This was dedicated to Stanley Isted with a well-intentioned but ultimately creepy inscription “Sit down for a while, think of me and smile…nice and gentle”. Still, I’m sure the Yewtree squad have got little to worry about here and on a pleasant day, I’m sure many a Chipstead supporter has taken full advantage of sitting on Stanley’s bench and enjoying an ale or two. Boxing Day, however, was no time to be uncovered, one brief foray into the elements was enough for me.

Park up and sit on Stanley

Park up and sit on Stanley

The only other stand of note was the Louis Thompson stand, a conventional 100ish seater stand which on this day was nearly full. Normally we don’t do sitting down unless we absolutely have to but as the Hamlet spent the second half kicking toward the uncovered end of the ground, the Louis Thompson was as close to the action as we were likely to get. Little did we know that we’d be much closer to the off-field entertainment too (more on that later).

Prawn sandwiches. Two options for sustenance presented themselves at Chipstead (as they do at most places). A bar and a tea hut, as the rain was coming down faster than the odds of Tooting being relegated, we headed for the bar.bar

Inside we were treated to a nice bit of mock-Tudor ‘beams’ and some rather jazzy Christmas decorations. I was grateful for the well stocked, well run bar and at less than £3 for an ale and a Twix, there were no complaints about the price either.

I was impressed by the rather splendid Ryman Division 1 South scoreboard that had been lovingly assembled if not updated with the half-time scores.

Scores on the doors? No.

Scores on the doors? No.

However, of most pleasure was a lone Christmas Card stuck on the notice board…

and may all your Christmases be filled with a Pink and Blue pumping

May all your Christmases be filled with a Pink and Blue stuffing

Now, I don’t know whose back you have to scratch to get your paws on one of those bad-boys but I’ll be doing everything in my power to get hold of one in 2013.

As we were almost in earshot of the M25, this must be Chelsea Country. Unlike on trips to some clubs not too far from here (Sutton United, I’m looking at you), I was delighted by the lack of league club paraphernalia around the place. One nice touch was the plaque and newspaper clippings from the opening of the bar by then-Chelsea manager and former England man (who I believe was part of the 1966 World Cup squad), Geoff Hurst; although the picture of Geoff’s arrival has a touch of the “what the fuck am I doing here?” about it.

Hurst

Chairman Colin Hughes shows off his bar AND his ‘tache. Take note Chipstead players of 1906.

The tea hut provided much needed hot beverages on a truly rotten day. 80p for a brew is about standard in our division but frankly, they could have charged double and most people would still have had one. The tea hut also seemed to be the primary vendors of merchandise with hats and scarves seemingly available to purchase with your Bovril. Next to the tea hut is a gigantic tree stump which look like it fell victim to Chipstead’s plans for expansion. Captain Planet would shed a tear if he ever found out.tea hutstumped

…and the game. First things first, getting through 90 minutes in apocalyptic conditions is a tremendous achievement and both teams performed admirably in the circumstances.

Somehow the Chipstead groundstaff had managed to get a surface that allowed both teams to pass it around without resorting to a muddy game of kick and chase. Sadly, only one team seemed capable of playing attractive football as Chipstead resorted to a more physical approach of manhandling some of the Hamlet’s undersized players. Perhaps no surprise then, that the game ended with a Chipstead red card.ground

The game’s only goal came from a Danny Carr header in the 1st minute of the second half, I can’t tell you anything of the build up as we were only just re-entering the ground but it looked like it was probably a header…I’m sure/hope nobody reads this blog for the in depth match analysis; my commiserations if you do.

Chipstead created a few chances and found Dulwich’s kryptonite – the low cross into the box – but seemed to lack a genuine goalscorer to bury the pass. Defensively, when they weren’t garrotting our Turkish superstar, Erhun Oztumer, Chipstead were painfully well organised and apart a couple of darting Nyren Clunis dribbles, The Chips were up to pretty much everything thrown at them. On balance, it would have been hard to complain at a draw but this year, narrow wins seem to be the Hamlet way.game

Man of the match. Upon celebrating the Hamlet opener, trying to establish who and how the goal was scored and a further complaint about the weather we took our place in the Louis Thompson main stand with little expectation of anything fun.

We were wrong.

It seems the arrival of Erhun Oztumer has brought with it a small smattering of Turkish supporters. Though the grizzled silence and casual sweary encouragement from the Rabble (the Hamlet’s most loyal supporters) is one of the most charming aspects of watching Dulwich, it was brilliant to hear a handful of guys singing in Turkish with “Dulwich Hamlet” implanted into the chants. There was loud but respectful banging of seats a (failed) attempt to get the Rabble in the scaffold pigeon stand to join in with some sort of harmony and finally some honking of car horns in the car park (partially encouraged by us). Roll on an FA cup tie with Leeds…

One of the Hamlet's Turkish Ultras. Excellent stuff

One of the Hamlet’s Turkish Ultras. Excellent stuff

Post-match rubdown. To judge Chipstead on a miserable day like this would be unfair. It was a truly awful day and the football on the pitch was always going to be compromised by the conditions. The club officials, supporters and volunteers seemed chirpy enough (as we all were by the opportunity to get out of the house for a few hours). High Road is one of those grounds that when the sun is out would capture all that is good about non-league football and whilst it’s a nightmare to get to, it’s probably worth a return visit at some point.SONY DSC

Kennington Oval

15 Nov

7 November 2012

The Oval, Kennington, SE11

Wanderers 1 v The Royal Engineers 7

1872 FA Cup replay

Team talk. Here at the Pigeon Stands we normally shy away from nostalgia. Especially nostalgia associated with football, where the images of cloth caps and rattles of yore bears little resemblance to the modern Premier League game and the yearly race through the gutter in which it’s clubs partake. However a chance to watch a replay of the first FA Cup final between Wanderers and the Royal Engineers at the Oval, arguably south London’s finest sporting venue after Champion Hill, was too good an opportunity to turn down. The fact that the game was being played in the run up to Remembrance Day in aid of various local and military charities further sweetened the deal.

Of course the Oval is more famous today as a cricket ground and home to Surrey Country Cricket Club, but in 1872 it was the first venue to host the FA Cup. The winners that day were Wanderers, by a single goal to nil, scored in the fifteenth minute by Wanderers striker Morton Peto Betts (playing under the pseudonym ‘A.H. Chequer’ as he had originally registered to play for a different team and may have technically been cup tied for the match). Another Victorian sporting legend on the pitch that day was club captain C.W Alcock, who had devised the rules for the competition a few months previously. Nothing at all suspicious about that, nor the rule he included that 30 minutes of extra time would be played in the event of the scores being level after 90 but only at the captains’ discretion. Some of these players like Alcock were real renaissance men, often representing their countries in multiple sports including football, cricket, and also beach volleyball. Here are some other sports they excelled at.

Morton Beets or cheeky get?

Wanderer’s were originally formed in 1859 comprising many players who were former pupils of the leading English public schools of the day, including Harrow, Eton, and Hogwarts. The club folded sometime between 1884 and 87 due to the rising interest in the professional game and the dominance of teams from northern England and Scotland. Wanderers reformed in 2009 to play exhibition games in aid of UNICEF.

The Royal Engineers were founded in 1863 to represent the Corps of the Royal Engineers (aka the Sappers) and have survived to this day affiliated to the Army Football Association. Engineers were favourites to win the 1872 final and were famed for their badass charging style. In the game itself Engineers player Lieutenant Creswell was famously injured after ten minutes, breaking his collarbone. He was forced to play the full game due to a rule that no substitutions were permitted (another Alcock rule addition?).

Royal Engineers circa 1871 – Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work we go.

Park the bus. The Oval is located in Kennington and has a stop on the Northern Line (Zone 2). It is also walkable within half an hour from the Victoria area.

Home advantage. Few sporting venues have as much character as the Oval. The name remains unsullied despite the best efforts of advertisers over the years that have seen it called the AMP Oval, the Brit Insurance Oval and presently the KIA Oval. But it was the Fosters Oval that I found most offensive as a cricket fan – how could they?

Riding the bus through south London i’m always amazed at how the ground just seems to appear from behind the tight Victorian street layout. It’s distinctive shape makes it look like it has just literally landed there. God only knows what the local Kennington hags thought when it ceased being a market garden in the mid 1840’s and a bunch of toffs started playing cricket there (perhaps, ‘get off my turnips’). Interestingly the original grass turfs used for the cricket pitch came from Tooting Common. This was a perfect choice for a game that involves smacking a ball out of the ground avoiding all the other players – and entirely in keeping with Dulwich Hamlet rivals Tooting and Micham FC’s current playing style.

Hobbs gate entrance

Turnstyles

Although the ground has been altered an extended since the olden days, approaching the main gates of the Oval is still an experience. The redbrick perimeter walls and iron gates suggest you could be entering old prison rather than a sporting venue. We entered through Hobbs Gate (£10 entrance) on the south side of the ground. This is a good place to take in the back of the Pavilion, the oldest part of the ground, before entering the stadium proper. Sitting in the Pavilion for big cricket matches is generally reserved for members only. However, as today was special all manner of football bloggers, ground hoppers, and other spectators were given free reign of the Pavilion’s historic hallways. And what a lot of hallways there are. Through the members entrance on the basement floor the steps and hallways of the Pavilion start to resemble a M.C Escher sketch, only with wood panelling… lots of wood panelling.

Over the members entrance to the Pavilion

Pavilion stairs

Just inside the members entrance

On the ground floor is the long room, which is famous for its length. This was the main fan meeting place before the game and also where the second FA Cup (that would be presented to the winner for photos only) was on show before the game. This cup was used between 1896 and 1910 after the first one was nicked from a Birmingham shoe shop window. The second FA Cup is the prize possession of Ann Summers and Knickerbox owner David ‘Pantyman’ Gold. Gold is also former chairman of Birmingham City and almost certainly had nothing to do with the theft of the first FA cup as the Birmingham connection is another unfortunate coincidence. ‘All Gold’, a book telling the tale of David’s success, no doubt with his trademark modesty, can be purchased from all good tax paying bookshops (and also Amazon). The book is nearly 500 pages long, 27 chapters with titles like ‘abject poverty’, ‘jews, jews, and more jews’ ,’loser takes it all, and (perhaps grimest of all) a whole chapter devoted to David Sullivan.

The long room

A drinking problem, two cups but only one mouth.

Long room

Exploring the warren that is the Pavillion was a real highlight. This included going right up to the fifth floor terrace which was a great place to view the rest of the ground, and was where we watched the second half. From here you get a really good sense of the scale of some of the newer stands, including the OCS that is opposite the Pavilion and the Bedner and Laker stands that flank either side.

The OCS stand

Bedner stand

Pavilion seating with Laker stand beyond

The Pavilion (on a different day with a different sport)

Prawn sandwiches. If there is one thing the Pavilion has it’s bars. At least one on every floor by my count. Truth be told the beer selection on sale for the game was not up to much at all – in fact it tasted like vinegar.

Food options were better and included a full Toby style carvery in the bar on the fourth floor.

Grub’s up

…..and the game. The teams were welcomed and treated to a rousing brass band rendition of the National Anthem. This mood was lowered when the band launched into ‘abide with me’ – a tune famously written somewhat aptly while the author was dying of tuberculosis.

Pleasantries out of the way and the game started much as we’d expected with the vastly more experienced Royal Engineers dominating. Of course the result wasn’t really that important, it was more about the occasion. Which is a good job as the Engineers took it to the Wanderers in the first half with a level of savagery not seen since water boarding – finishing the first half 5-0 up.

Brass band

Luckily celebrity guest manager and part time Umpa Lumpa impersonator Bobby Gould was on hand. I have no idea what Bob said to those Wanderer’s lads at half time (it undoubtedly involved the word ‘muppets’) but the second half was far more competitive. We were never going to see a massive comeback but at least Wanderers scored a goal courtesy of the fantastically named Danny Flash, son of Harry. The game finished 7-1 to the Royal Engineers.

Bob’s got a plan

Man of the match. The presentation of the second FA Cup to the winning team at the end of the game was actually a bit of a let down from a spectators perspective. This was done with the players backs to the crowd at all times and felt like more of a photo opportunity for the journalists (making me feel a bit like glorified room meat). The fact that any player wanting to hold the cup had to wear white gloves (that were presumably silk from Ann Summers) further added to the sterility of the moment.

Aaaaands off the Gold.

For me there was one guy who really captured the random magic of the event and that was Wanderers substitute goalkeeper Sano. Sano spent most of the game on the bench and was clearly only brought on for the last five minutes so he could get a medal, although he did manage to keep a clean sheet which is more than can be said of the other guy. Sano was clearly delighted to have been part of the occasion and even brought along a massive posse of friends and family to celebrate with at the end like he’d won the real FA Cup. Immense.

Sano celebrates his clean sheet

Post game rub down. What can you say. Access all areas to the Pavilion and novelty football for £10 in aid of good causes. It’s a no brainer really. A great night, well recommended.

Walton Casuals

8 Nov

03 November 2012

Ryman Isthmian League Division One South

Walton Casuals 00  v  Dulwich Hamlet 02 (att 116…apparently)

Waterside Ground, Walton-on-Thames

Team Talk. As Mole and Ratty know only too well, the river bank is a pretty special place. So on a crisp Saturday afternoon, a trip to the Waterside Ground in Walton on Thames seemed like a jolly good idea especially as Walton Casuals just happened to be hosting Dulwich Hamlet; a team that we’re a bit partial to.

Walton were founded by members of the armed forces who, after a few years of playing friendlies in the immediate post-war years, decided to establish a proper football club in July 1948. The Casuals were born and started playing Surrey Intermediate League games that year at Elm Grove Recreational Grounds in downtown Walton (if Walton has a downtown), about a mile from their current home at the Waterside. After 44 years of flitting around the rather limited independent Surrey Leagues, The Stags finally decided it was time to enter the pyramid. After a quick assent into the Combined Counties, Walton begin to stagnate but following the appointment of Surrey managerial stalwart, Mick Sullivan, the team were swiftly on the rise again. Three years later, ex-West Ham and punditry, er…legend(?) Tony Gale was brought in to add some panache. Under Gale’s reign, Sullivan was allowed to move on and the Casuals were placed in the steady managerial hands of Spencer Collins who helped get the club promoted into the Isthmian League where they remain today.

Following Collins’ departure, Walton Casuals continued to flirt with fame as Journeyman midfielder Neil Shipperley took charge in 2011 (remaining at Waterside for all of about 5 minutes). Shippers, who rivals big Neville Southall in the Fattest Ex-Professional competition, then went on to manage North Greenford before leaving in pursuit of the big time (seriously Neil, what on earth made you think that was going to work?) before returning to Greenford with his tail between his considerably girthy legs.

Neil Shipperley. Time hasn’t been kind

After Shippers was sacked, Walton welcomed back Mick Sullivan. A man who it’s safe to say, I hate more than any other on the planet (bar Neil Lennon). Sullivan was the evil genius who orchestrated the downfall of Dulwich Hamlet in the 2010 playoff final when he was the manager of Leatherhead. The sight of Gavin Rose’s tears still haunt me to this day.

Sullivan brought with him a host of familiar faces. Ex-Hamlet player/bench-warmer, Sol Patterson-Bohner (no sniggering) joined The Stags, as did ageless goalkeeper Chico Ramos and more importantly, fitness coach (and presumably dressing room jester), Mark “Catweasel” Norman. On Paper, it’s a strong unit and one that did not seem to deserve to be at the foot of the Division One South table.

Dulwich Hamlet came into this game in need of a confidence boosting win. A tumultuous few weeks had seen Gavin Rose’s men/boys defeated by the division’s top three sides by a combined score of 10-1, most recently a disappointing 2-0 loss at home to Hythe. There are also rumours of discontent in both the boardroom and dressing room which has culminated in player of the year and fellow Brockley resident, Dean Carpenter, being ousted for tweeting his displeasure of being left out of the team. Meanwhile the Pink and Blue Cafu, Kalvin Morath-Gibbs, remains AWOL.

This one had upset plastered all over it.

Park the bus. First thing you need to know about Walton Casuals’ Waterside Ground is that is miles from anything. The nearest station is Hersham which is a good two-mile plod. The better option is to get a fast train to Walton on Thames Station from Waterloo which takes about 30 minutes, only stopping at Surbiton and bypassing delights of Wimbledon and Clapham at speed. If you get a nice day. Take the opportunity to head straight up to the Thames and enjoy a riverside beer (or mulled cider in this case) at one of several pubs as you shout aggressively at the inferior souls living north of the Thames.

I saw the sign(s)

Homefield Advantage. Emerging from the river towpath, the first thing that becomes apparent is that Walton Casuals love a good bit of branding. If there’s a blank wall, chances are it’ll be filled with a new sign before too long. We counted eight signs before we’d even paid our admission.

You’ll enter the ground through a troubling maze of permanent portacabins, at least, I think they were portacabins. The first building of note is the club shop. This was a welcome sight after our past three bloggable games were void of any merchandising. As Walton seem quite happy to stick their logo on anything, we had high hopes. We weren’t disappointed.

In the shop, we were greeted by a lovely range of stationary and t-shirts but our eyes were drawn to a rather comfortable looking Walton Casuals cushion/pillow costing just fifteen of your hard-earned pounds. Sadly, Walton’s programme was  more of a financial burden at £1.50 (or 10% of a cushion) for a few sheets of A4 and an incorrect teamsheet. Not good.

Walton were hoping for a cushy win…sorry.

Once out of the shop, we were back in the maze and instantly transported into 19thcentury London as we stumbled across a drinking fountain.  A supply fresh from the Thames, perhaps? With Dr John Snow nowhere to be seen, we thought we’d give the pump (and a potential Cholera outbreak) a miss.

Would you tap that?

The ground itself fairly compact. There’s covered stands on all four sides – a rarity in this division – with both ends having a corrugated metal pigeon stand. The far sideline features the only seats in the ground. Questions are raised as to whether this is enough to satisfy the FA’s Step 4 ground grading but as Walton have one of the lowest average attendances in the league, it’s probably never going to be an issue.  At least the club have a sense of humour about the low turnout; playing Ghost Town by The Specials during the pre-match warm up. 

The main stand is a substantial whitewashed masonary shed, looking  somewhat like a giant dugout. It was cozy and offered a reasonable view from the edge although the lack of steps would leave those standing in the back of the stand with a very poor view indeed. Again, I doubt overcrowding of this stand has been an issue.

Prawn sandwiches. The Stags Bar, based in another converted series of cabins was – as we’d come to expect – laden with Walton Casuals branding. Tables, fridges, you name it, it was branded in The Stags’ Orange and Black. The bar seems to have been recently refurbished and was in good order, too good in fact, as (I’m reliably informed)  the white tables and chairs are a direct match of those found at swanky Bermondsey foodbag, Zucca.

More to our taste was the Shepherd Neame beer on offer, although the draft Spitfire was super chilled for no apparent reason. That’s no way to sample Kent’s finest but as the bar has panoramic views of the pitch, we could wait for our beer to warm up before heading to the battlefield. Impressively, The Stags Bar also has free wifi and a QR code linking to the (hopefully accurate) teamsheet. We felt like we’d arrived in some sort of Non-league future.

A tea cabin, sits opposite the bar and offered a decent selection of drinks including, the Isthmian Division gold, a Borvil. Nothing says paradise quite like some filthy hot gravy followed by a luke warm cup of tea and Walton served this up with style. Alas, the Brovil-and-Mars double (the Hateley-and-McCoist of half-time treats) wasn’t to be sampled as apparently all chocolate is sold in the bar. Madness. I refuse to stand for such barbaric acts.

And the game…Well, the Hamlet started with a bang. Less than a minute on the clock and Dulwich’s latest superstar, a pint-sized Turkish Cypriot from Bexley called Erhan Otzumer, had broken free only to shoot narrowly wide. It all looked very promising. When starting alongside fellow pocket rocket, Frankie Sawyer, one of the firey partnership (code name: the Micro Machines) had always been on the scoresheet. It was only a matter of time before the 30 or so travelling supporters would be rejoicing.

However, the 1st minute action was to be the only goalmouth drama of the first 45 minutes. A couple of half-hearted penalty shouts, (only one of which looked to be close) and some limp passing was about all that either side could muster. 

The Hamlet have been crippled by injuries this season and added another name to the list as Ellis Green went down after about 20 minutes. His replacement was young Dan Carr, as far as I’m aware, making his first appearance for the Pink and Blues.  He didn’t have the best of starts forcing a couple of weak shots towards goal but nothing to challenge the burly frame of Chico Ramos.

Dulwich struggled to breakdown the experienced but disjointed Walton back four, marshalled by Craig Lewington, son of England assistant Ray and nephew of  Dulwich’s consecutive appearance record holder, Chris.

After some half-time words of positive encouragement from Gavin, the Hamlet came out all guns blazing and took the lead on 48 minutes when Nyren Clunis was released down the right wing. Clunis’ precise cross found young Dan Carr who casually slipped his marker to slot past Ramos bagging his first goal for the Hamlet. A lovely goal from start to finish.

Dulwich put the result beyond bout shortly after the hour as Lewis “Chewy” Goncalves (and not Luke Hickie as we initially thought) latched onto the end of a free kick as Walton seemingly tried to manufacture an elaborate offside trick.

Chewy makes it 2-0

Dulwich continued to press and Walton seemed incapable of manufacturing anything. This was a shock as Mick Sullivan’s teams have usually played attractive, attacking football. Still, we weren’t complaining and the long road to 2010 playoff revenge continues. Leatherhead: Beaten. Sullivan: Beaten. Now for Kev Terry.

Man of the match. As you know, we bloody love a good look-a-like here at The Pigeon Stands and amongst a crowd of no more than 90 (irrespective of what the official count says), we didn’t think our chances of striking gold would be too high, especially as around a third of the crowd were familiar to us. However, lady luck was on our side as a pretty convincing Del Boy (in dress if not in facial appearance) showed up. I’d like to think that this was a subtle dig at our South East London roots but I fear it was just his regular winter get-up. A nice try nevertheless.

London, Paris, Walton-on-Thames

Post-match rubdown. Well, as Ratty said “There is nothing half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats at Walton Casuals”. It’s a nice wee set up, much better than we had expected but sadly, the quality on the pitch left a lot to be desired. Save this trip for a sunnier day by which time, they might have had a change of fortunes on the pitch. 

Croydon FC

3 Nov

24 October 2012

Combined Counties Premier Division

Croydon FC 03 v  Horley Town 01 (att c.50)

Croydon Arena, Croydon

Team Talk. Croydon. It’s a bit like Holland. There are loads of trams and everyone’s selling drugs. Cliches? On here? No chance.

Whilst we’d love to perpetuate the stereotypes of South London’s great metropolis but instead, we thought we’d go for the novel approach of talking about football and our trip to watch “The Trams”.

Croydon FC changed to a transport-based nickname (from the Blues) a few years back due to their ground’s immediate proximity to the jewel in the Transport for London crown, Tramlink, made famous by this woman:

Mercifully, there was no sign of that or any other hideous cow at Croydon FC. The club has been in existence since 1953 with the aim of providing the newly built sports arena with a senior team for the good people of the Norwood/Croydon borders to cheer on. Thanks to an awkward Surrey Intermediate League team of the same name, the team were forced to use the moniker Croydon Amateurs FC until 1973.

Croydon FC have historically flirted with the Atheanean and Spartan Leagues and had found refuge in the good ol’ Isthmian League, where their 32 year tenure ended in 2006 and the club moved into the Kent League.

Croydon also possess a unique triple-crown; having won the Kent, Surrey and London County Cups. Quite how a team can flirt between FA regions, I don’t know, but it seems to be something a few clubs (the Hamlet included) have tried in the past. I guess some people really like midweek football.

Park the bus.  Croydon FC share a privilege usually only reserved for clubs higher up the pyramid: their ground has its own dedicated station. Arena Tramlink stop is located right outside the ground and is easily reached from East Croydon Station.  However, if you’re feeling frugal (as my fellow Pigeon Stander was) or fancy a ride of the Overground, you can give the Trams a miss and walk to the Arena from Norwood Junction station in about 15 minutes and hop on the Ginger Line.

Homefield advantage. Following our trip to Ladywell Arena, we once again found ourselves at a football match in an athletics stadium. However, unlike Lewisham Borough’s humble home, Croydon Arena is in a far more advanced state and feels, oddly more suited to football than any other sport.

Upon arrival you’ll be greeted by a classic turnstile where, after handing over £8 (including a nicely put together programme) and a quid for a shot at glory in the golden goal (typically, we were unsuccessful), you’ll be in a vast expanse of a courtyard. From here there is virtually no view of the pitch, although a sign bearing non-league football’s most foreboding words will be just in front of you:

In the history of unwelcome signs, this ranks up there with “Ken Dodd’s Sex Festival”

The main stand upon which this hateful sign is displayed is host to the dressing rooms and rather substandard directors’ box, although, for a council facility to include any sort of directors’ box is pretty good going. It’s also unusual for an athletics track to have a marked area for the player’s walkout.  However, at Croydon, they have the best bloody entrance to the field of play any footballer could wish for: a stoic guard of otherwise redundant high-hurdles.

Would anyone fall at the first hurdle?
No.

Hurdles weren’t the only piece of athletic apparatus in the Arena as the obligatory Throwing Cage dominated one end of the park. More on this later. Behind this bit of surely unnecessary kit (seriously, who in this country is ever going to take up the hammer??) was a large single storey building which we desperately hoped housed the bar referred to in the programme. It didn’t. Instead, our casual glance through the window ended with us seeing rather too much of a moonlight yoga class…at least…we think that’s what it was.

On the far side of the pitch are three, count e’m, THREE, pigeon stands, each more glorious and pigeony than the last. Being sociable types, we avoided the two with people in them to stand around in the empty one. As with the main stand, these stands were in good shape and looked like the cleaner, smaller brothers of the Toilets Opposite Stand (aka the original Pigeon Stand) at Champion Hill.

Watching the actual game at Croydon Arena is tricky. Pitch-level views aren’t great. Unlike South London’s other athletic track grounds at Erith and Ladywell Arenas, where you can get pretty close to the action, Croydon keep you a good 20m away from the pitch. Being so detached from the action is a bit annoying, so stick to the elevated terrace or main stand if you’ve got a vested interest in watching the game.

The “Yoga” Hut.

Prawn sandwiches. With no bar or clubhouse, we were forced to find solace by the tea hut. Luckily, it was an excellent if freezing cold nook for a half-time refuel. Riddled with cold, thirst and hunger, I was delighted to be supping a decent cup of tea and chowing down on a proper old fashioned cone of chips. Both were top class and easy on the wallet. Sadly, the burger was a little more underwhelming; although considering it was cooked in a fryer under a main stand, it was never going to beat MEATliquor so it’s certainly not a complaint.

…and the game. Well, having stated that Croydon was much like Holland, I was expecting Total Football. Sadly, it was a little more like your standard Step 5 mid-table battle. Horley were the better placed side but apart from a breakaway opening goal from the ever-so-slightly overweight Leroy Hyett, they never really dominated.

Croydon equalised just before half-time thanks to a goal from the Portuguese master, Claudio de Almeida. I can’t tell you much more than that because we were in the process of walking round to the tea bar and our view was obscured by the hammer net. An observational hazard but woeful timing on our behalf.

Er….Goal?

The second half was a fairly cagey affair for the first 40 minutes but, with time running out, the Trams seemed to find an extra gear and pulled ahead thanks to a lovely pass by Danny Davenport which Taylor Smith just managed to get his boot to. The clichés kept rolling and Karl Doughlin put the icing on the cake with a stoppage time goal for Croydon to lift them into a rather more healthy league position.

Man of the match. Now, at 7:45pm, a ballboy is probably hard to come by [insert lazy Jimmy Saville jokes here]. Not a problem for Croydon FC, who have charged a fully grown man with the responsibly of fetching errant passes and wayward shots.

It would be a fairly brutal task at a normal ground, but at an athletics track where you’re being asked to cover three sides of the pitch, it’s a heck of a challenge. Still, this Kramer-esque ballman did a splendid job was hopping fences, rooting through apparatus and sand pits with scant reward (although he did get into the boardroom at half time). A Pigeon Stand salute to you, sir.

Post-match rubdown. Obviously, this is a Council funded ground so it’s in pretty reasonable shape and despite the lack of a bar (which, as a sick joke, is even advertised in their programme and on their website), it was a nice evening out. Out of the three athletics arenas we’ve visited, Croydon definitely comes closest to looking like a genuine football ground and with a strong Isthmian League pedigree, that’s no surprise. Being so close to Palace probably doesn’t help the Trams attendances but I was pleased to see nearly 50 people turn up on a Champions League night. Let’s be honest, that’s more than some clubs get on a sunny Saturday in April.

I’d recommend a trip to the arena; there’s trams, tea and a trifecta of pigeon stands…oh, and did we mention the trams?? In the words of Croydon’s programme editor, Simon Hawkins, Ding Ding! Ding Ding!

Lewisham Borough (Community) FC

5 Oct

Ladywell Arena, Catford, SE6 4QX

22 September 2012

London Senior Cup

Lewisham Borough (Community) FC 2 v Kent Football United FC 0 (attendance 36)

Image

Team talk. Lewisham Borough (Community) Football Club was formed in 2003 through the merger of Moonshot AFC, AFC Lewisham, and the brilliantly named Ten Em Bee. The club play their league football in the Kent Invicta Football League (step 6). But today was all about the cup, the London Senior Cup. A special day for Lewisham too, as this was the first time they had been allowed to compete in the London Senior Cup for 4 years due to ground facilities not ticking all the necessary boxes.

Lewisham Borough was long overdue a visit as the club is geographically the closest to Pigeon Stands HQ in Brockley. This would also be our first trip to a sub step 5 ground, so naturally we were pretty excited.

Today’s opposition is fellow Kent Invicta league Kent Football United, who currently ground share with Pigeon Stands favourites VCD Athletic. Unfortunately Kent FC are not a massively bank rolled non league dream team of the Kent’s best of the best. However, there was evidence of delusions of grandeur in the way they rip off both the Inter Milan kit and badge, perhaps they were setting themselves up for a fall…

Lewisham FC could not be accused of similar flashiness, the club the badge is just the council logo. In some ways this is nice and gives them a real community link. In other ways the badge, along with the bright yellow high vis shirts reminds me a bit of the bin men that wake me up every Friday.

Council badge

Park the bus. Lewisham play at the Ladywell Arena, which is between Catford and Ladywell (zone 3). Frequent trains from Charing Cross and London Bridge (about 15 mins).

Home advantage. The Arena is best approached from the Ladywell side, as Ladywell Fields makes a pleasant plod (the Ladywell Tavern or Ravensbourne Arms are recommend for pre/post match drinks). If you’re approaching from the Catford end then the Catford Bridge Tavern is highly recommended. Also keep a look at for what is left of the old Catford Dog Track, which mysteriously burnt down a few years back. When I say mysteriously, I mean suspiciously.

Ladywell fields approach

The Arena itself serves as a multi purpose community sports facility. The football pitch forms only a small part of the site that is dominated more by track and field. There is hammer throwing net, long jump, and also running track which encircles the football pitch (cue tiresome pub debate about football grounds with running tracks). In addition to these sports, Ladywell Arena wins our award for the most obscure other sport accommodated within a ground… petanque.

Pitch view from north end

Hammer

Petanque

You enter the ground at the south end, which is where the club house is. We were greeted warmly at the gate by Ray Simpson, the Chairman of the club (£3 in, which includes a programme that would put may Isthmian clubs to shame in terms of content). Recognised as newbies Ray was keen to give us the warmest of welcomes, show us around all that Lewisham Borough has to offer and share his plans for football world domination which (like most good plans) started with getting a bar on site.

The clubhouse itself is pretty nice to look at, having been built in a sort of pavilion style. Outside the clubhouse there is a raised terrace area that makes a good option for watching the game (this will also be a great drinking terrace when they get that bar up and running).That said, pitch side seemed to be the place most people headed for, where you can sit on the grass close to the touchline. There is also a directors bench for the big wigs and old boys.

Trackside

Club house

Leave you Javelins at the door gents

Pitchside chillout

Directors box

Alternatively, if you are a tight fisted butt muncher who can’t even shell out £3 to support your local community (whilst no doubt happy have to pay £50 per month to that arse Murdoch and his Sky buds) you can watch the game for nothing from a pedestrian bridge at then end of the ground. Non league dogging really is starting to take off, it must be the economic climate.

Return of the non league doggers

Prawn sandwiches. Half time tea and food can be purchased from a hole in the wall of the clubhouse. We were beaten to the snack bar by the match officials – thankfully they had not eaten the club out of bacon butties by the time we got there.

Linos in tea line

The club bar will be open in about three weeks according to Ray. Just in time for winter.

…..and the game. Anyone expecting football at this level to be the equivalent of watching kids kicking a ball around in the park will be surprised (and should also probably stop reading this blog). This was a well contested game with both teams putting together some good moves in possession. Speaking with the dad of one of the Lewisham defenders we found out that the team had been almost completely put together anew for this season. This was not apparent from watching the game, which is a real credit to them.

Both teams went at it in the first half, and were probably about equal in possession and chances created. Kent had the front two of Elstrom Die and Alex Tiesse  amongst their ranks. We know both these players to be talented footballers who have played at higher levels and the Lewisham defence did really well to keep them both quiet football wise and limit their noise to nothing but bitching and moaning and a bit of prima dona antics when decisions didn’t go their way (a tip guys, stay on bloody side!).

The first goal came for Lewisham on 15 mins, a cracking half volley that was the product of a really nice team move to spread the play into space. Lewisham doubled the tally just before half time to lead two nil at the break.

The second half was a more scrappy affair, which will have suited Lewisham who looked content to protect their lead. It finished 2-0 but perhaps Kent deserved a goal.

Watching the Lewisham team warm down after the game it was clear from the mood that progressing further in a cup they have been out of for so long gave them a massive lift. Hopefully they can carry this forward into the league.

Man of the match. This has to go to our new friend Ray. He won a couple of new fans with his welcome at the door and the way he went busily about everything throughout the game. Hope he at least got to watch a bit of the match and celebrate the win with the team after the game. It’s guys like Ray that make non-league tick.

Post game rub down. Well recommended for the trip – particularly when the sun is out where lounging on the grass bank watching the game is a real winner. The bar will be a bonus too.

Next up. Lewisham Borough’s next home game is 20 October against Ashford United in the League Cup. Other fixtures can be found here

Holmesdale FC

3 Aug

28 July 2012

Pre-season Friendly

Holmesdale FC 03  v  West Wickham 01  (att c.35)

Oakley Road, Bromley Common

Team Talk. It seems like ages since I’ve been out exploring the sites and sounds of non-league football in South London. Whilst a brief emancipation has been to the benefit of my status as a married gentleman, it’s done little for my South London groundhopping.

With Olympic nonsense kicking about on the telly and with Dulwich Hamlet away to Thamesmead, I decided to take a jolly down to Bromley to watch Holmesdale.

Holmesdale started out life in the 1920s linked to a Baptist Church in South Norwood. Holmesdale is something more closely affiliated with Crystal Palace, and their Holmesdale Road stand. Yeah, you’re right, who cares? Let’s keep things in the Kent League.  Holmesdale Baptist sadly folded a few years later only to be reignited by fellow Presbyterians, Surrey Boys Brigade in 1956.

Holmesdale had muddled around the leagues for a number of decades but have hit somewhat of purple patch of late. Back-to-back victories in Kent County Division One (2006) and Kent County Premier (2007) have seen Holmesdale plying their trade in the Kent League for the past 5 years. After a comfortable end to last season, Holmesdale will be trying to mount an attack on the top half of the table, with the help of my favourite non-league player outside of Champion Hill, Steven Strotten, a man who’s Twitter description simply reads: “Chubby”. Under the tutelage of Fabio Rossi (a Fabio the people CAN get behind), Strotten has gone from strength to strength and bagged a nifty 18 goals in 2011, although prior to this game, he’d gone through somewhat of a drought.

The Dalers opponents on this day were West Wickham who play outside of the Pyramid in the Southern Amateur League Division 1. One of London’s finest and oldest Saturday leagues.

Park the bus. Holmesdale Oakley Road ground is in Bromley Common which is about 15 minutes from Bromley South Station (itself around 15 minutes by train from Victoria Station) on the 320 bus. The Ground itself is basically on the opposite side of fields from Bromley’s Hayes Lane Ground.

Holmesdale, where the kids are..err…Busyfingered?

Homefield advantage. Unlike the Bromley’s suburban heartlands in Hayes, Oakley Road feels positively rural. The first thing you’ll note as you hop off the bus is the stench of horses. There’s some sort of semi-rural pub, a village cricket pavilion and a couple of paddocks. All very odd for what is still only Zone 5.

My Lovely Horse – Where are you going, with your fetlocks blowing

The ground itself is relatively Spartan with one pigeon stand to the north of the ground made entirely out of scaffolding, and a frame on the south stand that looks like is previously (or will one day soon) also provide shelter.  The only seating is on the far side of the pitch in the form of a rickety but massively comfortable stand offering excellent views of the action, although the high flyers won’t love their egalitarian approach to director’s boxes.

All seemed relatively normal at Oakley Road: bar, scaffolding, dog, barbeque (more on that later), floodlights but something was amiss. Why did it smell like Uncle Owen’s back garden? Then I realised, instead of the usual compost heap in the corner of the ground, Holmesdale burn all their garden rubbish…during game time. It felt like a kick-about at the Temple of Ateshgah. A real treat.

A burning desire for promotion…sorry

Prawn sandwiches.It’s preseason so I was expecting a bit of renovation going on but was naturally devastated when I saw a pair of burly workers laying new laminates in the bar and all the bar furniture sitting on the lawn as teas and coffees were being dispensed from an urn on a table – guarded apathetically by a large dog – in front of the clubhouse.  On a hot Saturday afternoon, this was not the ideal situation for a man in need of refreshment. OK, there was a make-shift playground with slides, climbing frames and some sort of large birdhouse thing but without beer, these represented a wasted opportunity.

Luckily they like a beer at Holmesdale and patrons were lead around the new bits of the floor to get to the bar. Obviously it’s hard to comment on the quality of the clubhouse but it seemed to be going in the right direction, a picture of the founders 1st shirt hung on one wall and there was a pool table shunted in the corner. With a pint coming in a £3, it wasn’t a bad wee pitstop.

A Pigeon Stands salute to working on a Saturday

As is common at Step 5 grounds, there was a barbeque set up nearby, however, Holmesdale had defied convention and actually got the charcoal fired up. They seem to like fire in Holmesdale. It appeared that the burgers were for the players and officials, although I’m sure the chap would have dished out any spares for a nominal fee.

…and the game. For preseason, it was nice to see both teams field strong sides. Holmesdale, just one week from Kent League kickoff, needed the run out and were keen to restore confidence after losing to Dulwich Hamlet in midweek.

They started with a bang as Steven Strotten beat his marker to tap in from a cheap corner/free-kick. West Wickham continued to press and had the best of the midfield at times but Holmesdale steadied the ship thanks to an excellent performance from former Chipstead man, Harrison Carniegie, who looks like he’s certainly capable of stepping up a division.

After 30 minutes, the referee determined that the players needed a rest and gave them a few minutes to take on some water. This gave Holmesdale’s plucky ballboys (proudly rejoicing in their matchday fee of a burger and a Mars Bar) the chance to source two of the match balls that had been kicked over the hedge, including the Dalers secret weapon, a yellow ball in summer time. Sadly they were to return empty-handed and with the disappearance of a third ball later in the first half a lot of panicked chatter seemed to be about what happens if the fourth (and final ball) were to go missing or..I dunno…land on a bonfire that someone had started up in the corner.

Luckily, both sides seemed to have better control of the ball in the second half and all involved could concentrate on their football, not least of all, Strotten who doubled Holmesdale’s advantage with a powerful header from a pacey free-kick. Holmesdale finished off their afternoon with a fine breakaway goal from Carnegie. With that, my afternoon at Holmesdale was complete, although apparently West Wickham slipped in a late consolation as I was leaving the ground.

Man of the match. Easy this time. Steven Strotten for both his on field and off-field performance. He’s has the quintessential good touch for a big man and is deceptively fast catching out the opposition a bunch of times in this game. Not only was first to the ball in the penalty box but upon being substituted after an hour’s hard work, he was also first to the barbeque where he proceeded to enjoy a well-earned burger with his family. Well it’s only pre-season after all. What a guy.

The ultimate big man up front

Post-match rubdown.  A trip to Oakley Road is highly encouraged. They may not have the crowds of some their divisional rivals but those who do go along are a jolly bunch. The football is pretty good but the Kent Premier looks very tough this year with Whyteleafe, Erith, VCD  and Beckenham all in with a shout of the title. However, Holmesdale are good enough to cause a few shocks and should improve on last year’s 13th place.

The ground might not be the most elaborate but the newly refurbished clubhouse will be a right treat and the fire pit is the ultimate homefield advantage. I fear that the bonfire is usually left unlit on matchdays, I’d like to think on cold Tuesday night games, Holmesdale supporters burn an opposition shirt whilst chanting some ancient mantra. That would be truly terrifying.

Corinthian Casuals

14 May

09 April 2012

Isthmian League Division 1 South

Corinthian Casuals 00 v Maidstone United 01 (att 176)

King George’s Field, Tolworth

Team Talk. Corinthian Casuals was the second leg of our Easter Bank Holiday double, following on from our trip to Chessington and Hook United which you read about last month. After a relatively subdued morning in the rain, we were hoping for brighter things in the afternoon. Sadly, we were to be disappointed.

Starting out life as Corinthian FC (not to be confused with the club of the same name in the Kent League) and The Casuals, Corinthian Casuals can claim to be one of the oldest clubs in Britain. A claim that led the FA originally naming one of Wembley’s premier hospitality packages in their honour before renaming it in honour of diamond thief and Escape to Victory star, Bobby Moore.

As well as learning more about Casuals’ storied history, we were also keen to see if we could spot wicket-keeping icon, Alec Stewart, whose dad was a former player for Corinthian Casuals. Stewart is apparently a regular down at King George’s Fields. However, unlike us, he had better things to do with his Easter Monday.

Along with Dulwich Hamlet, Corinthian Casuals are the only team in the country to sport a pink home kit, meaning they’re the primary reason why the two teams require an away kit. Unfortunately, Casuals’ current home shirts seem to have been through the wash once too often and their historic Pink and Brown has turned into a rather miserable Pink and Burgundy.

How’s it going So-crates, dude?

Corinthian Casuals are also the proud founding fathers of the reigning Brazilian champions of the same name who came into existence after the South West Londoners toured Brazil in 1910 as part of missionary efforts to save Brazilian souls from the devil…or Pete Winkelman. The two clubs remain close and in 1988, Corinthian Casuals flew over to Sao Paolo to play their continental counterparts who fielded no less than seven internationals (take note Guyana). It was in this game that Socrates got his first taste of English non-league football, playing 45 minutes from Corinthian Casuals before reigniting his love of the Pyramid many years later by playing for Garforth in 2004.

Park the bus.  The approach to King George’s Fields is one of the least attractive in South London, in fact, I’d rate it as the absolute worst to date. Tolworth (twinned with Mordor) is your nearest railway station, that’s about a 10 minute walk from the ground along the edge of the Kingston Bypass. That’s about as attractive as it sounds.

If you’re trying to avoid emphysema, you can cut through the playing fields and along the road at the back. Past the concrete factory and the motocross track. I noticed there was a bus stop on that route and although it’s probably only a two minute ride, it would be worth every penny.

Homefield advantage. For a team steeped in history, I was really disappointed by King George’s Fields. It’s a rather tatty place severely lacking any real character. Probably because it has only been home to the club since 1988.

The deceptively named “Tiny” Liddle Stand makes up the only seated area in the ground and is in fact, rather sizeable. Seating works in a sort of North-to-South grading with benches (albeit relatively plush, cushioned benches) at the far end, followed by a large swathe of more traditional plastic seats and ending in a portacabin (yes, a portacabin) which doubles up at the executive board room. Although the tiny bit of white picket fencing around one corner of the cabin/executive lounge suggested opulence was awaiting indoors, I’m not quite sure how Bruce Badcock and the rest of the Isthmian brass let Casuals get away with such shabby facilities in Step 4 but I think it’s safe to assume that they won’t be hosting any regional cup finals down in Tolworth any time soon. Not unless they fancy cozying up to Alec Stewart on a banquette.

Opposite the Tiny Liddle is, well, nothing: A couple of dugouts, some patio paving stones (possibly concealing the horrific secrets of the Jordache family) and a few floodlights. Nothing to see here folks.

Behind either goal was a rather solidly constructed shelter made out of good old fashioned scaffolding and corrugated metal sheets. Now, it’s easy to get precious about what a Step 4 team should have, but I bloody love a good bit scaff to keep the rain out especially but when there’s a plaque recognising the hard work of the chaps who built the stands (thanks to Grounds for Concern for that photo), that’s even better. King George’s really is the most scaff-tastic ground we’ve been to. Even parts of the Tidy Liddle main stand is just scaff and sheet metal. It’s like a Meccano enthusiasts wet dream.

Prawn sandwiches. The bar and tea hut are located at the back of the Tiny Liddle. The two are joined by another bit of scaff which provides a smoking shelter for patrons.  Whilst the pebble-dashing makes the whole building look a bit like a council-owned golf clubhouse, the away team dressing room which is attached to the far end of the bar was actually more reminiscent of my old nan’s bungalow.

Excuse me? Can James come out to play?
Oh no sorry, this is the dressing room.

The bar itself was pleasant enough, with plenty of memorabilia from Corinthians’ and Casuals’ historic past. Slightly upsetting was a Celtic pennant which seemed to have pride of place next to the bar. Not the kind of warm welcome I was I expecting.

Rule 1 of getting a good write up from me: HIDE THE BLOODY CELTIC MERCH!

The queue for the tea hut was pretty sizeable at all times, however, there seems to be short cut if you order from the bar as opposed to the hatch outdoor.

…and the game. After a morning of Combined Counties kick-and-chase, I was hoping for something a tad more sophisticated, in actual fact, I think Molesey would probably have given both of these two a run for their money. Maidstone are a club I have always had bit of a soft spot for having lived in the town for a bit a few years ago (even though the Stones were still exiled in Sittingbourne at the time). They remain one of the best organised defences in the Isthmian 1 South and are the only team to keep back-to-back clean sheets against free-scoring Dulwich Hamlet in the 2011/12 season. Up front, I have been expecting to see big things from Stones Striker Shaun Welford and whilst he seems to have all the physical gifts, I’m yet to see him shine. On this day, his performance was dwarfed by his strike partner Baff Addae, who looked dangerous throughout and scored an opportunistic goal from a slip by Casuals keeper Adam Peck.

Obligatorisch foto von das spiel

Corinthian Casuals started slowly are rarely threatened in the first half although they came into the game a bit more in the second half. However, even then they weren’t particularly dangerous. The Casuals were inspired/terrified by Scott Corbett, their own big number 7 and dead ringer for Tubes from the once popular, now dreadful, Soccer AM.  Corbett was so angry at his premature baldness that he was lunging in for every tackle, contesting every decision and generally giving talented the rest of his team a rough ride for everything they did (good or bad).

Scott Corbett. Not as nice as Ronnie…probably nicer than Matthew

The absolute best thing about Maidstone United (apart from my Father-in-law’s plans to deck out his buses in team colours for their homecoming this July) is StonesTV, a website broadcasting highlights of every Maidstone game. For those who are interested in seeing something more detailed about the game with Corinthian Casuals – opposed to a few flaky paragraphs from me – can check out their website.

Post-match rubdown. I hate being too critical of clubs on here. The whole point of the Pigeon Stands is to try and open a few eyes to the generally good times you’ll have visiting your local club. However, I’m just not sure there are that many good times or indeed locals (apart from the Stewart family) to be had round here. Casuals aren’t a great team on the pitch and there’s not exactly a brilliant wedge of stuff off the field. I suppose if you live within a five minute walk, you could pop along, but there’s a much better afternoon to be had at Raynes Park, Kingstonian or (dare I say it) Met Police and  it won’t take you much longer to get there. I’d love to say that everyone should make a pilgrimage to King George’s to bathe in the history of the club, but sadly, there’s not much at the end of an unpleasant journey. When the highlight of the trip was a £5 all day breakfast from one of Tolworth’s insalubrious  greasy spoons, you know you’ve had a shocker. Sorry Corinthian Casuals, it’s a massive ‘could try harder’ from Pigeon Stands HQ.

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