Tag Archives: Combined Counties

Whyteleafe FC

18 Aug

17 August 2013

FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round

Whyteleafe FC 03 v Epsom and Ewell FC 03 (att c.120)

Church Road, WhyteleafeSign

Team Talk. Despite watching Whyteleafe hang around Dulwich’s division for years, I had never ventured to the away fixture at Leafe’s Church Road ground. Shocking really as it’s an easy enough journey. I had an aborted attempt a few seasons back when a fire in the Croydon underpass snarled up traffic for miles. Sadly, I missed the game and Croydon wasn’t totally destroyed. A real lose-lose.

Anyway, last weekend, I finally broke my duck and headed for the deepest, darkest fringes of Pigeon Stand country to see check out the Leafe. It was the start of the FA Cup journey for most teams and a Kent (sorry, Southern Counties East) League vs Combined Counties League clash of nearly-titans was as close to a glamour tie as anyone could wish for.

Despite starting life as Whyteleafe Juniors (or possibly Whyteleafe Albion) in the early 20th Century, the current Whyteleafe FC has only been playing since 1946. After progressing through the local intermediate leagues, Leafe moved into the Surrey Senior League in 1958. With the new division came a move to the current Church Lane ground, from a nearby site in Whyteleafe. I had been informed by those more diligent than myself that the grandstand at the original ground currently forms part of a school playground. Being a Saturday in summer recess, I felt fully within my rights to longingly stare into schoolyard without passers-by calling the police; sadly, for all my snooping, I couldn’t see any grandstand.

In 1981, Whyteleafe moved into the Athenian league where they remained for three seasons before a sideways move into the Isthmian League where they survived several boardroom reshuffles including the appointment of the trustworthy-sounding Dave Swindlehurst. 

Trust Me. I’m a Swindlehurst.

Relegation finally ended Leafe’s tenure in the Isthmian in 2012. A fact some of their fans seem to blame exclusively on Dulwich Hamlet. Even after 15 months have lapsed, there are still snipes and digs at the Hamlet, it even makes it into their matchday programme. You see, Dulwich lost to a hardy Burgess Hill Town side whom everyone in Whyteleafe thought would be obliterated in the same manner they usually were by the Pink and Blue Wrecking Machine. Sadly (for Whyteleafe), Dulwich never play well at Burgess Hill, so defeat was inevitable. Maybe if Whyteleafe had played better in any one of the 20-odd games they lost, they would have survived without needing our help. Sorry, I digress.

On this FA Cup Saturday, Whyteleafe faced an Extra Preliminary Round match against Epsom and Ewell. As we’ve blogged everyone in the Combined Counties and the Kent League, this was a nice opportunity to catch a glimpse of teams from two of our favourite divisions. 

Park the bus. Getting to Church Road is easy. A 40 minute train ride from London Bridge will get you to anyone of Whyteleafe’s three stations within a 10 minute walk. Parking is strictly limited so coming by public transport strongly advised, more so even than usual.

Homefield advantage. Church Road has somewhat of a Territorial Army feel to it. Next to an allotment in the Surrey countryside, a sunken campus of scaffolding and crudely erected outbuildings suddenly creep up on you. Warnings of foul and abusive language are the first thing that greet you. They might be bitter, but they’re a polite bunch.

Watch your mouth!

Watch your mouth!

At first, it’s a bit disorientating, the turnstiles are flush with the perimeter wall and aren’t immediately obvious unless there’s a queue (there wasn’t) so, as in all times of confusion, I headed for the outbuilding marked “Bar”. Cheering is not something I long to hear approaching a non-league bar, it usually means someone is watching the premier league. Right enough, some guy was watching the Liverpool game, luckily he was alone and everyone else was deep in Whyteleafe-based conversation. A few minutes ahead of kickoff I headed for the turnstiles.SONY DSC

The ground itself is a real gem. Two covered terraces and two seating areas. The main stand was unlike any other I’ve encountered, made entirely of concrete and whilst it needed a good lick of paint, continued that sturdy look of a military training base.SONY DSC

The Gold Aviation Stand is without question the signature stand at Church Road. Built around a slope, it holds an array of burgundy seats (I’m guessing from a league ground somewhere), a tea bar and the dressing rooms. All comfortably above pitch level. The elevated dressing room and “tunnel” is unique in Pigeon Stand country and as they players ran out to the sound of ‘Welcome to the Jungle’, I started to get the feeling that Church Road should really get into the business of hosting boxing matches. What an entrance.

Welcome to the Jungle

Welcome to the Jungle

Almost dead on 3pm, the heavens opened and I took shelter in the stand opposite the Gold Aviation stand. I was taken by the number of boardroom staff at Whyteleafe and how none of them took their ceremonial spot in the main stand, instead choosing to mix with us mortals. I’d like to think they got the idea from Chairman Jack Payne at Dulwich.

As the rain subsided and I continued my walk around the round, I saw evidence of some structural damage to a breeze block wall. Had the Dulwich Young Team (the Warly Posse from nearby Warlingham) who had been wrongfully accused of wall-based damage during the Dulwich fiasco at Leatherhead, actually been practicing on Church Road ahead of their visit to Fletcham Grove? Surely not. Although I’m surprised the Leatherhead board didn’t try that line of enquiry.wallgate

Once I’d settled in a covered terrace on the sideline, I had time to notice that there were a lot of fine moustaches kicking around the crowd. My favourite, an old boy reminiscent of Fawlty Tower’s Major. A great look and stern competition for Chessington and Hook’s Swiss Toni.

Me and the Major

Me and the Major

Prawn sandwiches. The Whyteleafe bar, was the 2012 Sporting Club of the year. Not sure how you get that title, but in fairness, it was a top bar. Two handpumps, coffee and crisps on offer as well as club merchandise displayed behind glass in a museum-style cabinet. This bar really was attacking sales on every front.trophy

Inside the ground was a more conventional club shop selling a “large selection” of badges and boxes upon boxes of programmes. It was jolly good and whilst the large selection of badges turned out to be a little small, the range was exceptional, focussing entirely on non-league clubs. Terry’s Badges, it ain’t but if every you need an Esh Winning or Winterton Rangers badge, this is the place to be. To show that no hard feelings existed between Dulwich fans and Whyteleafe (especially as there’s a whole division between us), I purchased a rather splendid Whyteleafe badge, remorseful that Dulwich don’t delve back into the badge-selling game.

The tea bar was precariously positioned adjacent to the toilets, one wrong move and it could all be so different. As the weather had taken a turn for the worse, I decided that it was time for an early season Bovril. It was, as it always is, just the ticket. I once tried to explain Bovril to an American at an NFL game, it wasn’t easy but that’s what makes Bovril awesome; the fact it’s basically cheap gravy but it’s so so so much more.

Life-giving beefy goodness

Life-giving meaty goodness

…and the game. Three games presented themselves to me on FA Cup saturday: Met Police vs Dulwich at Imber Court, Clapton vs Stanway in Forest Gate with Damon from the Real FA Cup and others in the blogging fraternity, or Whyteleafe. In the end, convenience and the three previous nights on the drink made Whyteleafe the winner. Of the three games, this was the only one with any goals. It had six of them, the vast majority being early goal-of-the-season candidates.

Whyteleafe opened the scoring with a well taken header by Jenson Grant, a big powerful midfielder who has the potential to play at least step 4 football, if not slightly higher. Epsom’s equaliser came after about 30 mins with a wonder goal from Freddie Myrers who hit a dipping, curling shot from the apex of the box.

GOAL!

GOAL!

Whyteleafe, all eyes on Wembley Way, hit back with two goals two minutes just before half-time. Firstly, centre back captain Jason Thompson, who unlike the other son of Surrey who bares his initials, slotted a penalty away with the greatest of ease. Then came a well worked goal tapped away big Gareth Williams.

After the the half-time break (which started excellently with ‘Geno’ by Dexy’s over the Tannoy), Epsom came out all guns blazing. They looked like a determined bunch and on 50 minutes made it 3-2 with a brilliant individual goal by Kyle Hough. If history is kind, it will point to Michael Owen vs Argentina, Gazza vs Aberdeen and Hough vs Whyteleafe. High on Wondergoals, Epsom continued to chip away at Whyteleafe and with around half an hour to go, finally leveled things up after the ball somehow found its way to Epsom’s Reece Jackson after some tireless Leafe defending.

Whyteleafe then found their rhythm, pounding the Epsom and Ewell goal for the rest of the game. In the last five minutes, the hit the crossbar, forced a finger-tip save and worked the ball to Gareth Williams countless times only to see shots saved or blasted over. The frustration was such that one of the Leafe board members had to go for a sit down in between attacks.Match

In the end it finished 3-3 and whilst a case could be made for a draw being the correct result, Whytleafe fans might feel a tad aggrieved not to have got the win.

Man of the match. The Extra Preliminary Round of the FA Cup is the very best time to watch the cup. A meeting of nearly 400 clubs who in reality won’t see the 3rd Qualifying Round, let alone the 3rd Round Proper but it’s where all that “Romance of the Cup” stuff that the media churn out every January actually counts for something.

A child in a Chelsea kit marvels at adults' enthusiasm for cup football

A bemused Chelsea supporting child questions everyone’s appetite for domestic cup football

Call it irony, call it blind hope, but the act of making tin-foil replicas of the FA Cup is one of the absolute best things about the cup. As Whyteleafe is one of the cradles of the Non League Day campaign, I was hopeful that someone would get the baco-foil out and happily, I was not disappointed as a group of lads had lovingly crafted a fine fine FA Cup. Hopefully for their sake, they’ll get another round to wave it around.

Post-match rubdown. I must admit, I’ve not been the biggest fan of Whyteleafe in the past due mostly to some fairly terrible attitudes I’ve encountered on the Dulwich Hamlet Forum. However, they seem to be in the minority and of the fans I met on saturday, all seemed thoroughly decent. Importantly John Fowler has also got them playing some attractive football.

As a club, I was heartened to see an range of ages in attendance, not just kids with their grandparents but the all important 20-40 year old crowd who drink more, buy merchandise and bring others along with them. The kind of crowd that has helped attendance at Dulwich Hamlet increase by 160% in 3 years. If Whyteleafe continue to make inroads in their Palace and Chelsea heartlands – which, of course, will be helped by a return to the Isthmian League – they could soon be a force to be reckoned with. Early adopters, you have been warned. Get down to Church Road.SONY DSC

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Colliers Wood United

6 Nov

04 November 2011

Combined Counties Premier Division

Colliers Wood United 04  v  Guildford City 02 (att c 110)

Wibbandune Sports Ground, Colliers Wood

Team Talk. Combined Counties action under the Friday night lights of the Wibbandune Sports Ground on Guy Fawkes weekend. Nothing could be sweeter. I’m here thanks to Colliers Wood United’s decision to move their game with league leaders Guildford to boost attendances. Well, it worked for the SPL, why not the Combined Counties?

Colliers Woods United, or their earliest incarnation, Vandyke FC, were founded in 1874 by a group of tap-dancing, crime-solving doctors with a penchant for non-league football, chimney sweeping and mockney accents… that might not be strictly true.

Having ploughed away in the old local league structure, The Wood moved to the Surrey Intermediate League before moving briefly to the Surrey Seniors Division 1 in 1969 where they won the inaugural league title.

Despite their relatively lofty position in step 5, the Surrey Seniors title remains the Wood’s only league triumph having won promotion from the Combined Counties Division One in 2003 as runners-up.

The Wood have had some minor cup triumphs over the years, winning the 1992 Surrey FA Cup with a resounding 4-0 win over Woking and Horsell.

Like a lot of clubs further down the pyramid, there’s a lot of mucking-in to be done at Colliers Wood. Management duo, Mark Douglas and Tony Hurrell, also act as Club secretary and treasurer respectively. I’m sure managers of some of the more affluent clubs would love to do it, here it’s nothing to do with cooking the books to bring in players, it’s purely a sign of how much people are willing to put in to keep the club going. Admirable stuff.

From the Bridge

Can't see The Wood for the trees

The visitors today are the highly impressive Guildford City. The Guild are top of the Combined Counties Premier as they were this time last year and if results are anything to go by, they continue to look a cut above the rest. Last year, Chertsey Town, the only team who could stick near Guildford, were promoted owing to problems with City’s Guildford Spectrum Sports Ground. This year, they are hopeful that they can overcome this adversity and go marching into Step 4.

Park the bus. Colliers Wood’s Wibbandune Sports Ground is located on the Kingston bypass. Not the most glorious location for a sporting arena but convenient for those travelling by car in South West London. Travelling on public transport from South East London is decidedly less enjoyable. A train ride from Waterloo will get you to New Malden in 22 minutes, from there it’s 15 minutes on the 265 bus. Alternatively, you can get the 265 from Barnes but that may take some time. We’ve previously talked about football dogging but this is more your conventional dogging hotspot. Naturally, I’m grateful that South West London’s deviant population had, for this night anyway, decided to give the Wibbandune car park a miss.

Homefield advantage. Usually, this is where we stick a load of pictures of the ground. Unfortunately, due to a technical error (I forgot to charge the camera), there are minimal visuals to be seen here so you’ll have to make do with my slightly sketchy descriptions.

The Wibbandune is tidy wee ground that has been home to Colliers Wood for some 20 years. Previously, a cricket oval, there is definite evidence of the ground’s past. The Square is still identifiable, being the only flat bit of grass on the pitch and there is a graveyard of old crease rollers, but it’s the clubhouse – still referred to as The Pavilion – that is most definitely more suited to cricket than football.

Chalkbaord

Always a big fan of a chalkboard

The Pavilion features two covered terraces and appears to have been built by Barratt Homes with two seating areas (featuring a wrought-iron garden fence) either side of the clubhouse entrance. There was also another seating area, behind to dugout, although this looked somewhat underutilised:

Now here at the Pigeon Stands, we love a good discussion about seats and this season we’ve had some great finds. This one however, has to go down as the worst. I had to check it out and I can confirm that I had no sight of the pitch, let alone 22 guys chasing a ball and swearing at each other.

Luckily, it wasn’t all silly seating. The annex to The Pavilion, one of these pigeon stands on wheels, had been pimped up with some school gym benches and a (potentially illegally liberated) park bench. Whilst this stand was clearly where all the action (and more importantly, the ground-hopping massive)was, my eye was drawn to something even more suburban.

Pimped up Pigeon Stand

Having recently visited Raynes Park Vale, I was aware that this part of London liked a barbecue at the football, so imagine my surprise and delight to find a fully fledged, permanent brick BBQ pit overlooking the pitch. With the acrid smell of gunpower in the air (from both fireworks and my ancient substitute camera) I briefly thought there may be a possibility of a cheeky undercooked burger at half time. Sadly not.

Apart from The Pavilion, code name: My Nan’s House, the ground is relatively sparse with a seated stand opposite the clubhouse/pavilion and both ends are uncovered.


Prawn sandwiches. The clubhouse itself is very much your stock standard bar-cum-tea room. There was a more than ample trophy cabinet although it was disappointing to see it draped first in a Chelsea flag and then a Millwall scarf. There was also a secondary cabinet with a nice range of pennants from visiting sides.

A traditional range of Carling and Strongbow was available on tap but I was all about a mug of tea. In step 5 I’ve become accustomed to proper mugs, I wasn’t let down. I’d also go as far as saying it was one of the better brews I’ve had at the football. Food was plentiful; a pyramid of ham and cheese rolls, worthy of the non-league system itself, was a more than welcome sight and the £2.60 for a cuppa and roll was even more welcome.

Bliss

The boardroom took on the form of a slightly squashed conservatory. Whilst the sandwiches and cakes looked of a fine quality, I can’t imagine a full meeting of home and visiting boards would be very comfortable. Yet another advantage of having some of the Wood’s execs in the dressing room during half time.

…and the game. Well well. I don’t think too many expected this. Colliers Wood won, and won well. Guildford, a side considered by many to be playing in a division lower than they should be really didn’t look like it. Without question they marshalled themselves better but the Wood front-six were totally dominant.

The Guild took the lead as Joel Hughes scored from an uncontested header as Colliers Wood struggled with the concept of man marking. Guildford hit the post a few minutes later and generally looked to have the beating of Wood’s pedestrian defence. Wood came close, force a great save from Antony Hall who undid the majority of his good work a few minutes later when Elvis Defreitas back-pass slipped comically under Hall and trickled into the net with little time left in the first half to recover.

Less then a minute after the restart the Wood were ahead thanks to an incisive breakaway from Ryan Hughes who crossed for Nathan Turner to finish neatly and put the Wood in the lead. The 3rd followed shortly after, once again Hall  tried to clear his lines only to have the ball slip under his foot for “Super” Mario Embalo to tap in for a well deserved – if not well worked – goal.

Guilford’s misery was complete when Embalo, noticeably the best player on the field was put clean though only to be bundled over by the unlucky Hall. The resulting penalty was despatched by Joe Mead with ease. City, who didn’t really look fired up, came back into the game with 10 minutes to go from yet another shambolic bit of marking. This time, sub Ben Camara was the benefactor of Wood’s poor marking.


In the end, Colliers Wood deserved their win although without the keeper’s errors, I got the feeling Guildford would probably have gone on and won the game. Still it keeps things lively at the top and by all accounts Colliers Wood were unfortunate not to have won their last few games. Perhaps their luck has finally changed.

Man of the match. I guess it should be men of the match. Mark Douglas and Tony Hurrell do a phenomenal job at the Wood and should be commended for their efforts. The administration of step 5 clubs is a tightrope few chose to walk and those who do perform admirably well. More impressive is Douglas and Hurrell actually find time to play decent football too.  To hear more from Douglas, listen to this podcast from the always excellent Two Footed Tackle.

However, it’s Hurrell who I am most interested by. The guy is a proper non-league legend. A former printer who fought for the unions in the Wapping Dispute, Tony was more of a cricketer than a footballer in his youth, never really gracing the upper echelons of the non-league game. Colliers Wood is his Manor and has been for years. He’s painted the lines, cut the grass, made the tea, washed the windows, sat in dugout, sat behind the dugout. You name it, Hurrell has done it and he now shares management responsibilities with Douglas.

What I particularly liked was his touchline manner, chatting to subs and fans alike, he was keen to analyse every facet of his team’s performance. From his vantage point ON the pitch, he was definitely best placed.

I’m sure the guy loves his footy but over and above that, he loves Colliers Wood United. He’s the ultimate one-club man, but in many ways (and I mean this with absolutely no negative connotations), they’re a one-man club. Celtic can keep their “We Are All Neil Lennon” falsities. At Colliers Wood United, they are all Tony Hurrell.

Post-match rubdown. Wood aren’t the most naturally gifted bunch of players I’ve seen but they’re not a bunch of hackers either, they play to their strengths and took full advantage of the opportunities presented to them. They are a progressive bunch on either side of the touchline and I took a real shine to their positive attitude. It’s something a lot of teams in both step 4 and 5 could learn from.

The decision to play on a Friday night was great and the majority of the hundred-strong crowd will have had a fine time. Personally/depressingly, I can think of few more enjoyable Friday nights I could have had. Although, I could probably think of some warmer ones.

The lack of accessibility is probably one of the biggest obstacles in Colliers Wood’s quest for higher attendances but a trip to Colliers Wood is really worth the effort of getting there.