26 December 2012
Ryman League Division 1 South
High Road, Chipstead
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
However, of most pleasure was a lone Christmas Card stuck on the notice board…
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.
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.
…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.
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.
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…
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.