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. 

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