Archive | November, 2012

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.

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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!