28 July 2012
Holmesdale FC 03 v West Wickham 01 (att c.35)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.