30 April 2013
London Senior Cup Final
Pre-match warm-up. “What makes a man turn neutral? Is it a lust for gold? Power? Or were you just born with a heart full of neutrality?” The words of Captain Zapp Brannigan rang loudly in our ears as we disembarked our train in the suburbs of South West London. We didn’t care. After three years of near constant must-win football matches at Dulwich, a hearty bout of neutral football was exactly what the doctor ordered.
After Dulwich’s majestic championship victory over Maidstone, Leatherhead’s craftsmanship and the entire Isthmian Executive Board (Fuck you Alan Turvey. Who’s laughing now???) our love of the beautiful game has never been so full of lustre and vim. So the opportunity to watch a real east vs west London Senior Cup Final between two of our favourite South London clubs (outside of Dulwich, of course) was not something we’d want to miss.
Team Talk. We feel like we’ve got somewhat of a special connection between both of these clubs. Kingsmeadow was the very first ground we blogged, albeit a game featuring their squatters-cum-landlords, AFC Wimbledon before we returned to co-incidentally cover a Kingstonian London Senior Cup game last year. Bromley’s Hayes Lane has also received the Pigeon Stands’ treatment and we were more than a little enamoured by their fondness for signage. However, it was a previous trip to Hayes Lane in the winter of 2010 that first got us thinking about blogging. If anyone is to blame for our self-indulgent babble, it’s Bromley.
Bromley and Kinstonian have had up and down seasons, with both ending in mid-table obscurity, both would relish the opportunity for a bit of end-of-season glory. Bromley’s path to the final saw a splendid win over Tooting and Mitcham (of course, all victories over Tooting and Mitcham are splendid) and a nerve biting (if not for the football then for the anxious race for the last tube/train) penalty shootout win in the semi final away to Wingate and Finchley.
Kingstonian have seemingly cruised into the final. Wins over Hanwell Town and Dulwich Hamlet (which we’ll skirt over with haste) set up a semi-final with Cray Wanderers. Whilst we’re fond of the Ks, a Hayes Lane derby would have added something to the occasion.
Park the bus. Imber Court is a ball-ache to get to but is not nearly as difficult as it seems on the start of the journey. It’s all about timing. The Ground is located in Thames Ditton, a sort of urban village without the urban or the village. Thames Ditton station and its hourly train service to Waterloo is a 10 minute stroll from the ground. Esher Station is about 15 minutes away through some woods, a pitch and putt golf course.
Homefield advantage. Imber Court is notorious amongst fans of non-league football as being the ground that the Isthmian executive board and the London FA love to use for their cup finals. This is due entirely to the ground’s hospitality set up and has absolutely nothing to do with convenience for fans or supporter experience. As the Isthmian board (in a rare moment of clarity) decided not to force Dulwich Hamlet and Concord Rangers to schlep across the capital town for the League Cup Final, the Lodnon FA were only too happy to oblige.
When it’s not being used for the wining and dining of non-league football’s top brass, Imber Court is home to the Metropolitan Police Football Club. A team flush with cash and featuring precisely zero policemen. They have built a main stand on forces lottery funding and list Commissioner of the Met on their website alongside the club’s chairman and football board. They attract an average crowd of around 100 supporters who are seemingly oblivious to the vast number of genuine football clubs in the local area. In short Met Police FC are the kind of heavily-bankrolled ghost club that is ruining the Isthmian League.
Despite being a horrible excuse for a club, their ground is not without its charms. Upon arrival, through the pebble-dashed, Mock Tudor faux-opulence of inner-M25 Surrey, you will be greeted by a smashing inter-war brick building that has been criminally been wreathed in a quite vile 1970s extension. This complex is the Met Police Sports Club and acts as the bar for the football ground. Herein lies the problem. The bar is not within the curtilage of the ground. What’s more, no drink can be taken into the ground. If you do manage to sneak a beer in, you’ll be kettled – a hobby of the Met – behind a floodlight with heavily obscured view of the pitch, in fact, you’ll see virtually nothing.
The ground is in good shape with the publically subsidised main stand looming over the pitch. For some reason there appears to be a chimney coming out of the back of it. One can only assume that it’s used to burn evidence. The main stand was full of suits from around the league including the best chairman in football, Jack Payne of Dulwich Hamlet. Although Isthmian Chairman, Alan “#CockPissTurvey” Turvey had decided that he couldn’t be bothered to cheer on his league’s representatives, Kingstonian, as he was presumably too busy devising a plan to screw over Dulwich next year.
The only other covered stand is behind the goal nearest the entrance. It’s a fine stand but is overshadowed, literally, by a giant privet hedge which runs around most of the ground. Whilst this doesn’t come close to comparing to the Glebe Park hedge in Brechin, the ornamental gates and all-round high quality topiary was a rare pleasure particularly in Isthmian grounds.
Prawn sandwiches. As noted above, Imber Court is a dry club despite having one of the largest bars in the division. So big in fact, that it’s split into two. Sadly, on cup final Tuesday, the rozzers decided to disconnect the hand pumps and made us all drink fizzy lager or cider. But it’s not just about the booze here, y’know. There’s Comedy, Jimmy Somerville and UB40 to be enjoyed here. Apparently Billy Ocean played here a few years ago which was pretty brazen of him considering the multiple warnings from the police that telling girls to get “out of my dreams and into my car” would end in a certain custodial sentence. Let’s just hope he wasn’t going to turn up to the next big policeman’s gala at Imber Court. Although, frankly the prospect of a black-tie buffet and some Billy Ocean at half-time was very tempting. Luckily, half-time was full of distractions without the need for a tuxedo. Firstly, the trophy cabinet included the first award to a simian that we’ve spotted at a ground, then the first scratch-card machine we’ve seen at a club. It was hard to tell if this was an upgrade from a fruit machine or not, either way, it was clear that The Old Bill love a gamble round these parts; when their not shooting Brazilians or killing Evening Standard vendors, they’re always having a flutter.
Inside the ground, your options are tea or toilets…
We chose tea. However, as we wanted a refreshing brew 10 minutes into the second half, we were too late. The Met take their curfews very seriously and if you want a drink in the second half, you’re shit out of luck but with a bit of local knowledge, you can get the guys at Domino’s Pizza to throw a Pepperoni Passion over the hedge.
The toilets, I’m pleased to report, stayed open all game.
…and the game. We came to Imber Court in the hunt of an enticing match between two teams looking to end middling seasons with a bit of silverware. We weren’t disappointed. Bromley – favourites despite a troubling bit of form – started brightly taking the lead within 2 minutes with a neat finish from Elliott Buchanan. Kingstonian came into the game but seemed unable to get a shot off. Bromley looked clinical and capitalising on from an unpenalised foul, they doubled their lead on 38 minutes with a breakaway goal from Aaron Rhule.
For the rest of the game, Kingstonian looked like the far superior side and challenged hard, especially after Orome was sent off for fouling the immensely talented Jamil Okai who was clean in on goal. Okai caused the Bromley defence trouble all game long and was finally rewarded for his efforts in injury time. Disappointingly for Kings, it came too late and Bromley just held on to lift the cup. A miracle for any team featuring Sanchez Ming.
Man of the match. There were a few contenders for this one. High on the list is @putajumperon, one of the pre-eminent football bloggers in London and jolly nice bloke. To top off his general niceness, he drove us back to Surbiton Station to save us from waiting around at Thames Ditton for ages. A pigeon salute to you, good sir.
Our other contedors came mostly from the Bromley support. We enjoyed the collection of inflatable animals, ranging from Whales to Monkeys. I don’t know for sure whether these were cup final specials or whether they were following the unfortunate trend of somewhat tiresome Dulwich Hamlet “mascot”, Ged the Giraffe who seems to be on show every week. Then there was the immaculately well behaved Bromley dog, hard not to love a non league dog he’s lucky that the Peelers didn’t conscript him for action. Of course, a special mention also has to go to Bromley Manager/Chairman/all round good egg, Mark Goldberg (not to be confused with Goldberg), who still manages to look like a pristinely dodgy second-hand car salesman whilst knocking out some quality football.
However, of all the contenders one stood above the rest. Tuesday’s win was the first Bromley’s first trophy since 2003, obviously Tuesday was a time of great joy and excitement. This coud mean just one thing. INVAISON! Sadly for one fan, the emotion of the occaision become too much and as the Lilywhite hoards piled over the fence, this poor guy was left wrestling with a gate be couldn’t open. Fortunately, he made it onto the pitch eventually and when last seen he was in tears on the phone shouting “we won the cup! We won the cup!” Who says the County Cups don’t matter?? Definitely a good way to end 2012-2013.
Post-match rubdown. Make no mistake, Imber Court and Met Police FC is an abortion of a football club and ground. If you live nearby, I’d urge you to take a leaf out of @putajumperon’s book and head to any one of about other 15 grounds in the area. That said, if you team is unfortunate enough to make it to a cup final, take a thermos full of gin, admire their magnificent hedge and make the most of a bad situation.