Archive | August, 2011

Raynes Park Vale

29 Aug

29 August 2011

Combined Counties Premier League

Raynes Park Vale 3  v  Epsom and Ewell 2  

Grand Drive, Raynes Park

Team Talk.  Bank Holiday. YES! With Dulwich Hamlet not in action until 3pm, I sensed an opportunity to get in a morning kick-off before heading to glorious Champion Hill. Lots of juicy ties on over the bank holiday, none more so than a gritty Step 5 match-up between two stalwarts of the Combined Counties Premier.

Raynes Park Vale (affectionately shortened to both The Vale and/or RPV) are the product of a mid-90s merger by two clubs, Raynes Park F.C. and Malden Vale F.C.

Raynes Park Vale, behind bars and ready to be unleashed

Malden Vale, the more successful of the to sides, have the honour of being the last ever winners of the Surrey Senior League in 1978 before the league vanished in a reorganisation and emerged as the London Spartan League, a league in which they finished 4th twice and 2nd twice, most disappointingly in 1984, when they lost out on the title to Hanwell Town on goal difference. Vale then left for the Combined Counties first incarnation and at the first attempt, won the title. The only league title on either side’s resume.

Malden Vale also have the slightly richer history in terms of former players. Former Irish international Clinton Morrison and current St Johnstone legend in the making, Jody Morris, both started out their careers in Malden Vale.

Raynes Park were formed off the back of the old Southern Railways (Raynes Park) an old works team. Sadly little is known about these sides other than Railway had success in the 1932/33 Middlesex League and were also double winners in 1936, taking home both the Railway Athletic Association Cup and the Southern Railway Orphanage Cup.

Team Photo c. 1937 (c) sarflondondunc

Raynes Park Vale’s opponents were fellow Surrey-ites and promotion hungry, Epsom and Ewell, a team/ground we’ll be blogging in future.

Park the bus. Raynes Park Vale play at Grand Drive, original home of Malden Vale and in no way connected with the late-90s band of the same name (who, with ex-members of Goldrush now perform as Danny and the Champions of the World for those of you interested in that sort of thing). The stadium is a 5 minute walk from Raynes Park Station, a 25 minute ride from Waterloo or 15 from Clapham Junction. The ground is off Grand Drive itself and is located up a track which runs parallel to the stadium. Parking is limited so avoid the “Road Music”if you can (I’ll stop now).

An old street sign marks the way to former club

Home Advantage.Grand Drive is a rather reluctant home to Raynes Park Vale. The departure of Wimbledon to Milton Keynes hurt more than just the Dons, it also hampered Vale’s hope of finding a new ground. The current stadium, together with the rest of the Prince George’s Fields sports pitches was set to be bought out by Wimbledon F.C. for their new youth academy. However, thanks to arch-chuffers, Sam Koppell and Pete Winkleman, the planned facility was eventually built in-between roundabouts somewhere in Buckinghamshire and Vale continue to ply their trade in the corner of Prince George’s Fields. Whilst Vale seem somewhat aggrieved by this, most likely because of the  financial burden of the lease, I have to wonder whether a move away would be of much greater harm. Certainly a new stadium would be a bit more state o’ the art but it wouldn’t have the faded charm of Grand Drive.

Cars, as far as the eye can see. But are they here fore the Vale?

The ground has fallen into a state of slight disrepair, even by Combined Counties standards and I fear would require some pretty serious work to get it up to Step 4 requirements. However, it’s still got a lot of character. The blue and red railings were a particular highlight and was a further sign of the ease at which many clubs can pimp their ground in team colours if they wear something a little less dapper and it’s always a pleasure to see a chalkboard for the team line-ups.

However, the first thing you notice as you notice as you enter through the kiosk is that ridiculous grade of the pitch. There must be a clear 2m from the bottom left corner to the top right. It’s not the north face of the Eiger but you’d still be able to have a mighty competitive cheese-rolling contest and it was evident that it has an influence on play.

A LOT of play was down that side

In terms of structures, there is one covered stand which features nice old-fashioned wooden bleachers as well as stands (of sorts) at both ends. It also featured the obligatory director’s box for the visiting officials. This was about the only corner of the stand I didn’t attempt to sit in but the other four or five vantage points I tried all provided obstructed views of one or both goals, resulting in some serious giraffing and making it the only all-restricted view stand I’ve sat in.

Luckily other options were available. Although, the conventional pigeon stand located behind the goal at the top of the hill was looking rather worse for wear and not something I would chose to shelter under unless absolutely forced to. Judging by the collection of rusty barbeques which seem to be stored there, few others fancy watching the game from there either.

The Pigeon/BBQ Stand

After wandering down to the bottom of the hill, I can see why. Opulence, thy name is Raynes Park Vale. A three-man “executive” enclosure with leather, yes LEATHER armchairs for the delectation of even the most discerning lower league connoisseur. It even seems to come complete with mugs of tea, genuine MUGS. Full of life-giving tea! Amazing.

Why is nobody having a seat??

Watching Vale. LIKE A BOSS!

A noteworthy feature was a tree dedicated to one of the Raynes Park faithful who had died last year. A much nicer tribute than a bench or seat in the stand, especially if they use the pruned branches to build another executive stand.

RIP Tilley

Prawn Sandwiches. Despite taking the form of a Scottish housing scheme boozer, the clubhouse was a nice, yet functional space with pool table, dart board (a rare find in London these days) and telly, although Magic FM was the order of the day. The bar has a number of framed programmes of big Vale games as well as pennants from visiting sides. Oh and a collection of comedy Shag Lager.

As it happens, getting a Shag from the barman was the last thing on my mind. With the early kick-off, breakfast I needed breakfast. Irritatingly, bacon rolls were harder to come by at Grand Drive than they were at the wonderfully Jewish, yet understandably cloven-hoof-free, Wingate and Finchley F.C. (well worth a visit, by the way).

A small corner of the bar was dedicated to tea and hot goods but sadly only frozen burgers were on offer, these were simultaneously defrosted and cooked on a large George Foreman grill. I chose not to partake. A mug of tea was an inviting 50p and impressively came from a teapot. A magnificent touch.

During the 15 minute interval, I had a chat with one of the visiting support  who seemed like a jolly chap and seemed to take an interest in the Pigeon Stands experiment, even asking for a note to the website (if you’re reading this, welcome Dundee Dougie).  Despite my obvious bias to fellow ex-pats, he and his pals seemed like a pleasant bunch and I’m certainly looking forward to a trip to Epsom and Ewell in the near future.

The home support largely took the form of stewards, barmen and tea-ladies so there was scant opportunity for any interaction with them.  Those who weren’t helping out in someway seemed accommodating enough though there was an odd mutter about the early kick-off time.

and the game. Fantastic quality on show today as both sides played out a really good game. Epsom have a good history in the Combined Counties and are a side who many think stand an outside chance of promotion (although most of us still fancy Guildford). They undoubtedly had the physical edge and for the most part seemed well organised. However, they did look prone to the odd howler. They opened the scoring after 10 minutes with a bundled effort after a corner. RaynesPark slowly came back into the match and pulled level after half an hour when Raynes Park keeper, Dean Cupit, cleared his lines with an almighty hoof up the pitch which star of the show, Simon Moore, latched on to. Poor defending at set pieces cost Vale again when a headed goal from another corner. Vale continued to press and Simon Moore was sent clean through for a second and third time without being able to find the net.

In the second half and played some very intricate passing football, sadly, not all of the players hooked up to it but massive credit has to go to Raynes Park gaffer, Lee “Dobo” Dobinson for trying to improve the young talent at his disposal.  Not bad for a man who lists his former clubs as Café Mango’s, Legends and Footlights.

The Raynes Park equaliser came midway through the second half after a comical back-pass was snaffled up by Moore as he netted his second. The winner – and best goal of the game – came with three minutes to play as a long, Delap-esque throw was flicked on for Moore to claim his hat-trick with a spectacular volley across the face of goal in into the corner of the net.

However, the most spectacular moment in the match came some 10 minutes into the second half when out of nowhere, the peaceful Zone 4 suburbs were shattered by an unseen and deafening roar of some sort of vehicle. Too shrill for a car but too deep for a plane. It was grotesque and mysterious, the players were confused, the officials were confused, heck, even us fans were confused. After maybe a 30 second deafening, play resumed with the background music of ear-melting engines. My fears of a Christine-style murder car or worse, Mr T in a tank, were allayed as the fairground in the adjoining field turned out to be a drag-racing show.

Man of the Match.  Tough one this. Usually there’s a clear off-field stand out. Today that wasn’t so much the case. As you can tell, I’ve written quite a bit about the game itself and without a doubt, the star of the show was on the pitch.

However, in good tradition, our award goes to the multiple volunteers who keep Grand Drive ticking over.  There may not be an army of supporters in the stands but there’s a solid troop of jovial helpers who man the turnstiles, fetch the balls from over fences and serve behind the bar. They are supporters in the truest sense of the word and at Grand Drive, like at thousands of grounds across the country, they keep things going.

Worryingly, many of these souls seem to be in their twilight years and at Raynes Park, I worry about what happens in 20 years when these people can no longer continue. For now though, we salute those who give up their weekends, bank holidays and evenings for the enjoyment of others. Nice one!

Post-match rub-down. As I conclude this latest tale from the pigeon stand, I’m left feeling I’ve been a little harsh on Raynes Park Vale. Granted, it wasn’t a day of great whimsy but it was still a grand day out and importantly, it was full of splendid football. Both sides played some good stuff and in particular, Raynes Park, thanks to the intrepid coaching endeavours of Lee Dobinson. If implemented with a bit more pace and finesse Vale could prove very effective both in the Combined Counties and above. Next week’s FA Cup prelim with Faversham will be an excellent encounter and well worth checking out.

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Tooting and Mitcham United

17 Aug

16 August 2011

Pre-season Friendly

Tooting and Mitcham United 5 v Guyana (Golden Jaguars UK) 1 (att c.150)

Imperial Fields, Morden, SM4

Pre-match warm-up. Summer is dead. Football has returned. With appetites whetted vehemently from a long pre-season, teams are slowly getting their leagues up and running. The start of most of the English Leagues last Saturday means that very few corners of the Pyramid are yet to kick a ball in anger.

Predictably, the Isthmian League is one such corner, therefore, we’re forcing ourselves into one last preseason game before our lot resume normal service.

Yesterday, I think it’s safe to say, was no normal day as Tooting and Mitcham lined up against an international powerhouse…Guyana, 114th in the FIFA rankings. How could I pass up this moment of excitement and sheer bemusement? International football. Live. In Morden.

Do not adjust your sets. Guyana. YES. Guyana

Of course club sides have been known to take on international teams on special occasions in the past. My Bradfordian co-Pigeon Stander remembers fondly the day he saw England play the Bantams at Valley Parade to commemorate the Bradford City Fire. Mercifully yesterday’s encounter was about something less horrific and the only thing on fire was Tooting & Mitcham striker Billy Dunn.

First off, I should explain that Tooting & Mitcham are the closest thing Dulwich Hamlet have to a rival. At a distance of over 6 miles, it’s not a rivalry born out of geography, it is a matter of history. Croydon Athletic, are a full mile closer to Champion Hill than Tooting but whilst there’s not much love lost, they are little more than a Bank Holiday fixture for Dulwich.

In Tooting, Dulwich Hamlet have a snake to their mongoose.  They are scum, sub-human scum. I had always vowed never to visit Imperial Fields unless on Hamlet duty, however the prospect of a ridiculous friendly and the thought that Dulwich may have to wait some time before lining up in deepest, darkest Morden meant that I left my prejudices at the turnstile and got psyched up for a festival of transcontinental football.

Sadly both rooms were closed so I had to make do with the Bar Zone

Team Talk.  As you may have guessed by the name, Tooting and Mitcham United are the consequence of an interwar merger between Tooting Town and Mitcham Wanderers. Neither had a particularly decorated history and the unification – several years in the offing – was designed to yield success. Eventually, in 1958 the dream became a reality as The Terrors  lifted their first Isthmian League title. This success was quickly followed by a tremendous run in the FA Cup resulting in a 3rd Round tie at home to Nottingham Forest. After a brave 2-2 draw, Forest won the replay and went on to win the cup. Most painfully for the elder generation of Hamlet supporters, Tooting’s success continued into the 1959/60 season as a crowd of nearly 17,000 watched Tooting and Mitcham beat Dulwich in the decider for the Isthmian league title.

The original Trading Places. Eddie Murphy scores for Tooting versus Forest. c. British Pathe

Tooting and Mitcham currently play in the Ryman’s Premier and their game with Guyana is the final warm-up before their campaign to avoid relegation begins on 20th August.

Their opponents last night were Guyana’s Golden Jaguars (ranked between Wales and Guatemala) who had planned on this game being a warm-up for the UK-based members of the national side as they prepared for a 4 team mini-tournament. Unfortunately, the only game to survive was the various organisational mishaps was match against Tooting.

Sadly, this kind of boobery has plagued Caribbean football in London of late thanks in no small part to the bungled efforts of several companies out to make a quick buck.

First, there was a firm of agents known as Temptation Promotions. Disappointingly, there’s no connection with Motown, just a group of self-promoting likely lads who seem more interested in increasing their exposure than that of their clients. Probably why their roster is stagnating somewhat with the highest profile name currently on their books being Kettering forward and big fan of knives, Moses Ashikodi. It’s hardly IMG is it? To be honest, calling yourself  Temptation Promotions isn’t really going to attract a Wayne Rooney (or even a Kwame Ampadu) to your front door. You’d be as well calling yourselves Caught Roasting Promotions.

All of a sudden, a well-meaning but seemingly stop-start football school, the Solid Rock Academy, have emerged and are now is trying to get in on the Guyanese football cash cow. The company seems to share numerous traits of Temptation Promotions (including a mean cover of “My Girl”) so I’m naturally sceptical that the two entities may be effectively be the same animal…probably a reptile. Still, if you do fancy being either coached or represented by the Beebop and Rocksteady of the football world, give the guys a call.

Sadly, despite the hype (from our end alone), there was no pomp and ceremony on show. No steel drums, no flags not even a rendition of Guyana’s national anthem. I felt mildly cheated.

The Guyanese media assemble for the beam-back to Georgetown

Park the bus. Mitcham tram stop is around 5 minute walk north of the stadium. Those less keen on travelling like a Dutchman can go to Morden on the Northern Line (around 40 minutes from London Bridge) and take a pleasant 20 minute walk along the River Wandle to the stadium. Parking is free and there are usually Morden enough spaces. Sorry.

Not exactly San Francisco, but it'll do

Home Advantage. Imperial Fields (Dulwich code-name: Venereal Fields) has been home to The Terrors since 2002 when Tooting and Mitcham left their dilapidated Sandy Lane ground which failed its safety certificates and was deemed a fire hazard.

Happily, Imperial Fields was the replacement and much like the Hamlet’s own ‘new’ ground is has not merely endeavoured to ticking the FA’s Ground Regulation boxes, but also seeks to provide a decent spectator experience.

The ground is a bit like a Bizarro World Champion Hill. It’s similar, yet all wrong. Like Champy, there’s a gym attached which offers good views of the pitch for those wanting to get hench and watch some football.

This was one of several free viewing opportunities the local natives seemed to take advantage of. I’ve always found this football-equivalent of dogging to be rather demeaning, especially for non-league football. It’s like stealing from Oxfam.

Football Dogging

...and another

and ANOTHER!

Imperial Fields has three stands and an uncovered area on the far byline. The covered terraces behind the goals are much larger than usually seen at this level and offered some excellent elevated views of the action rarely seen at this level, although their Brutalist Soviet style is quite overpowering. The main stand holds 600 seats and has a club shop and tea hut at the back. It’s pretty plush. Alas, the whole thing is let down slightly by preventing supporters from walking around the sand with the technical area blocked off by the Main Stand and an odd TV tower on the far side, blocking our circumnavigation.

The Tooting Faithful in their Pigeon Stand. Not a patch on the Hamlet Rabble

The club shop was well stocked with a full supply of Tooting oddities and a nice ranges of books and programmes. I managed to pick up a few Dulwich programmes including one from our last league meeting with Tooting, a fine 4-1 win in 2008, something the guy at the till didn’t seem to want reminding of.

Beckham, Gazza, Mugs. Literally something for everyone

Prawn Sandwiches.Disappointingly, there was no nod to Tooting’s immense Curry Mile. Not even a Chicken Balti Pie. However, the addition of a Caribbean Beef Pattie was a fitting last minute addition to the tea hut’s repertoire.

Tea. c. British Pattie

I was also lucky enough to get a quick tour of the  hospitality suite thanks to the boardroom manager, Keith. In here, high-flying execs presumably indulge in a feast of cocaine and fine wines but as they were only setting up, all that was visible was a tray of fairy cakes and some cups of tea. I’m sure the rest was on the way.  The boardroom was pretty nice with lots of pictures of years gone by as well as a puzzling pair of photos with former Prime Ministers Blair and Brown, who on seemingly separate occasions had both been conned into a visit to Imperial Fields.

The Boardroom. Check the carpet!

Tony avoids the tricky questions on Iraq to check in on the REAL Terrors

After this interlude, I rejoined the huddled masses and headed for the bar. Admittedly this was more of a primary school canteen with ale and not a patch on the Champion Hill bar (when it’s open) but the addition of the usual collection of flags and banners helped and frankly any club serving Hogs Back T.E.A on pump is not going to get a bad write-up from anyone at Pigeon Stands HQ.

...and they will know us by the trail of kegs

and the game. Perhaps unsurprisingly in the circumstances, this was a rather one-sided affair with Guyana looking totally out of their depth. It became apparent after just 5 minutes when Billy Dunn was put through for the opener that this wasn’t exactly the team that (on ranking alone) should be giving Gareth Bale and co a good run for their money. Big Fola Onijube made it 2, rounding off some lovely build-up play and Jamie Byatt got the 3rd from the spot just before half-time. Former Hamlet centre-back (now an accomplished full-back) Osa Obanwonyi also had a fine half and seemed like a much more fluid footballer than the one that  left Dulwich a year ago.

The second half saw the pre-season tradition of multiple subs and the flow of the game was all but lost. The highlight was the excellent 4th by wonderfully named Freedon Pigott but a special mention goes to the Tooting sub, Jordan Anderson, who may just be the tallest man on the planet who fumbled the ball home from a corner to make it five. He makes Leatherhead’s (formerly Burgess Hill‘s) man-mountain Danny “Lurch” Gainsford look almost human. When Tooting face Leatherhead this season and these 2  beasts collide, time may very well stand still.

As for Guyana, Golden Showers might be a more fitting nickname than the Golden  Jaguars. I can safely say that not one of this side will get anywhere near an actual international match and most I suspect, couldn’t even get a deal in Step 5. Their goal in the dying seconds will be comfort to some but the fact they almost concede a sixth straight afterwards suggested that a famous comeback was unlikely.

If you're bat-shit crazy for inflatables then call Chrissie's balloon helpline 24/7

Man of the Match.  This was a close call. The gigantic dog who seemed to be following me around was the real star of the show for me, even high-fiving Billy Dunn. That said, my visit to Imperial Fields stood out thanks to boardroom manager Keith, who stopped his work to insist that I come into the boardroom and have a tour. Whilst I could have coped without his anecdotes of previous Tooting glories over the Hamlet, I couldn’t hold it against him, especially as I’d done similar with in the club shop earlier. Thanks Keith!

An honourable mention

"Stand up if you hate Tooting". Silly thing didn't understand the chant. Bloody Dogs.

Dunn gets the paw after a stellar performance

Post-match rub-down. Obviously I came with my guard up for this one and desperately tried to find fault with anything I could. Disappointingly, I’m sad to announce that (prehaps unsurprisingly) Tooting was a solid evening out. OK, they’re Dulwich’s Skelator but ultimately they seem like a well supported, knowledgeable and reasonably pleasant bunch. Their most loyal supporters may not be as witty and urbane as those at the Hamlet and certainly not a debonaire, but their chat wasn’t dinging either and on the field, Tooting and Mitcham play football in the right spirit.  That said, apart from Jamie Byatt and Billy Dunn who I thought was exceptional, there wasn’t too much of a gap in quality between Tooting and the top of Step 4 and I suspect that might be a bit of a problem for them this season. If they do slip up (and the Hamlet miss out on promotion…unlikely, I know), I’ll be looking forward to coming back, albeit in my pink and blues. As Dulwich are still to lose a match at Imperial Fields, I dare say I won’t be the only one eyeing up a return visit.