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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