Tag Archives: Dulwich Hamlet

Chipstead FC

29 Dec

26 December 2012

Ryman League Division 1 South

Chipstead FC 00  v  Dulwich Hamlet 01  (att 124)

High Road, Chipstead

SONY DSC

Team Talk. Christmas is over. 19 years on and I’m still bloody waiting for someone to buy me a proper Tracy Island.

To cheer myself up and to forego further family ‘banter’, we packed ourselves off to the other side of Croydon to see what was going down at Chipstead FC.

The Chips were founded in 1906 as a works club for the builders constructing the nearby Netherene hospital. Times were tough in those early years and much like the current financial struggles of non-league clubs, Chipstead relied on a number of handouts and initiatives to make it from one season to the next. The club used legal and above-board Whist drives to cover the costs; something Dulwich Hamlet should consider if rumours of financial instability persist.

Two seasons ago, the club celebrated 25 years of playing senior football club by finishing in 10th place in Division 1 South, their highest ever league position.

The 1906 Chipstead lads. Not enough moustaches for my liking. (thanks to Chipstead FC for the pic)

The 1906 Chipstead lads. Not enough moustaches for my liking. (thanks to Chipstead FC for the pic)

This season has seen Chipstead once again fighting at the top end of the table. A fine achievement as despite not being particularly well-supported, they also have not gone down the Whitehawk/Crawley Down International Airport/Met Police model of buying their way out of the division without any fans. They are a seemingly well run wee club for the local community.

Their opponents this day were fellow advocates of thrifty success; Dulwich Hamlet. Yes, we are aware that this blog has turned into somewhat of a Hamlet away-days travelogue but when your team are playing a style of football that can only be described as Hot Angry Sex, I wager, you’d struggle to watch other teams as well.

Park the bus. High Road Chipstead is a description more of the ground’s surrounding topography than of its land use. It is remote, 5 miles south of Croydon and in the middle of nowhere. There was a genuine turkey farm opposite the ground and not a Barrett Home in sight.

The nearest station is Chipstead which is about a mile away down a country road. Delightful in the summer, however; in the pissing rain it was less attractive. It’s not often we’ll say this, but drive if you have the option. Clearly lots of people felt the same way as we soon discovered it wasn’t just the drains that had overflowed, it was the parking too.

Homefield advantage. High Road is another one of those odd grounds that seems baffling close to failing the FA’s Ground Grading regulations. There’s a semi-sheltered scaffolding arrangement behind one of the goals which on a normal rainy day would be sufficient but when the weather resembles the rapture, the half-metre gap at the top is most unfriendly.Pigeon Stand

A MAJOR defect in the Pigeon Stand

A MAJOR defect in the Pigeon Stand

Located next to the stand is an area of uncovered seating, more conventionally referred to as a park bench. This was dedicated to Stanley Isted with a well-intentioned but ultimately creepy inscription “Sit down for a while, think of me and smile…nice and gentle”. Still, I’m sure the Yewtree squad have got little to worry about here and on a pleasant day, I’m sure many a Chipstead supporter has taken full advantage of sitting on Stanley’s bench and enjoying an ale or two. Boxing Day, however, was no time to be uncovered, one brief foray into the elements was enough for me.

Park up and sit on Stanley

Park up and sit on Stanley

The only other stand of note was the Louis Thompson stand, a conventional 100ish seater stand which on this day was nearly full. Normally we don’t do sitting down unless we absolutely have to but as the Hamlet spent the second half kicking toward the uncovered end of the ground, the Louis Thompson was as close to the action as we were likely to get. Little did we know that we’d be much closer to the off-field entertainment too (more on that later).

Prawn sandwiches. Two options for sustenance presented themselves at Chipstead (as they do at most places). A bar and a tea hut, as the rain was coming down faster than the odds of Tooting being relegated, we headed for the bar.bar

Inside we were treated to a nice bit of mock-Tudor ‘beams’ and some rather jazzy Christmas decorations. I was grateful for the well stocked, well run bar and at less than £3 for an ale and a Twix, there were no complaints about the price either.

I was impressed by the rather splendid Ryman Division 1 South scoreboard that had been lovingly assembled if not updated with the half-time scores.

Scores on the doors? No.

Scores on the doors? No.

However, of most pleasure was a lone Christmas Card stuck on the notice board…

and may all your Christmases be filled with a Pink and Blue pumping

May all your Christmases be filled with a Pink and Blue stuffing

Now, I don’t know whose back you have to scratch to get your paws on one of those bad-boys but I’ll be doing everything in my power to get hold of one in 2013.

As we were almost in earshot of the M25, this must be Chelsea Country. Unlike on trips to some clubs not too far from here (Sutton United, I’m looking at you), I was delighted by the lack of league club paraphernalia around the place. One nice touch was the plaque and newspaper clippings from the opening of the bar by then-Chelsea manager and former England man (who I believe was part of the 1966 World Cup squad), Geoff Hurst; although the picture of Geoff’s arrival has a touch of the “what the fuck am I doing here?” about it.

Hurst

Chairman Colin Hughes shows off his bar AND his ‘tache. Take note Chipstead players of 1906.

The tea hut provided much needed hot beverages on a truly rotten day. 80p for a brew is about standard in our division but frankly, they could have charged double and most people would still have had one. The tea hut also seemed to be the primary vendors of merchandise with hats and scarves seemingly available to purchase with your Bovril. Next to the tea hut is a gigantic tree stump which look like it fell victim to Chipstead’s plans for expansion. Captain Planet would shed a tear if he ever found out.tea hutstumped

…and the game. First things first, getting through 90 minutes in apocalyptic conditions is a tremendous achievement and both teams performed admirably in the circumstances.

Somehow the Chipstead groundstaff had managed to get a surface that allowed both teams to pass it around without resorting to a muddy game of kick and chase. Sadly, only one team seemed capable of playing attractive football as Chipstead resorted to a more physical approach of manhandling some of the Hamlet’s undersized players. Perhaps no surprise then, that the game ended with a Chipstead red card.ground

The game’s only goal came from a Danny Carr header in the 1st minute of the second half, I can’t tell you anything of the build up as we were only just re-entering the ground but it looked like it was probably a header…I’m sure/hope nobody reads this blog for the in depth match analysis; my commiserations if you do.

Chipstead created a few chances and found Dulwich’s kryptonite – the low cross into the box – but seemed to lack a genuine goalscorer to bury the pass. Defensively, when they weren’t garrotting our Turkish superstar, Erhun Oztumer, Chipstead were painfully well organised and apart a couple of darting Nyren Clunis dribbles, The Chips were up to pretty much everything thrown at them. On balance, it would have been hard to complain at a draw but this year, narrow wins seem to be the Hamlet way.game

Man of the match. Upon celebrating the Hamlet opener, trying to establish who and how the goal was scored and a further complaint about the weather we took our place in the Louis Thompson main stand with little expectation of anything fun.

We were wrong.

It seems the arrival of Erhun Oztumer has brought with it a small smattering of Turkish supporters. Though the grizzled silence and casual sweary encouragement from the Rabble (the Hamlet’s most loyal supporters) is one of the most charming aspects of watching Dulwich, it was brilliant to hear a handful of guys singing in Turkish with “Dulwich Hamlet” implanted into the chants. There was loud but respectful banging of seats a (failed) attempt to get the Rabble in the scaffold pigeon stand to join in with some sort of harmony and finally some honking of car horns in the car park (partially encouraged by us). Roll on an FA cup tie with Leeds…

One of the Hamlet's Turkish Ultras. Excellent stuff

One of the Hamlet’s Turkish Ultras. Excellent stuff

Post-match rubdown. To judge Chipstead on a miserable day like this would be unfair. It was a truly awful day and the football on the pitch was always going to be compromised by the conditions. The club officials, supporters and volunteers seemed chirpy enough (as we all were by the opportunity to get out of the house for a few hours). High Road is one of those grounds that when the sun is out would capture all that is good about non-league football and whilst it’s a nightmare to get to, it’s probably worth a return visit at some point.SONY DSC

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. 

Kingstonian

25 Mar

19 March 2012

London FA Senior Cup Quarter Final

Kingstonian 02  v  Dulwich Hamlet 01 (att 178)

Kingsmeadow, Norbiton KT1

Team Talk. Avid readers (hello to both of you) will know that this isn’t the first Tale from the Kingsmeadow Pigeon Stand, having opened our blog with a trip to last season’s game between AFC Wimbledon and York City. However, it’s only fair that we give Kingstonian, the rightful natives of Norbiton, a fair crack of our Pigeony whip. So we girded our collective loins and headed south-westerly for the last remaining 2011-12 London Senior Cup Quarter Final.

Despite roots dating back to 1885, Kingstonian’s current incarnation is the result fo a merger between Old Kingstonians and Kingston-on-Thames. Old Kingstonians, then of the Old Norbiton Sports Ground (now Kingsmeadow) acted as the reserve team, whilst Kingston-on-Thames were based at Richmond Road, the club’s ground for nearly 70 years between 1919 and 1988.

Kingstonian are somewhat of a cup specialist, despite only winning the FA Amateur Cup once (compared to Dulwich Hamlet’s impressive 4 titles) they were twice successful in winning the FA Trophy in the 90s thanks to the Midas-handed management of non-league icon Geoff Chapple.

Your Clothes. Give them to me.

These days, Chapple is ensconced in the boardroom of Conference South champions-elect, Woking, and Kings are stewarded by Geordie and all-round good guy, Alan Dowson whose coaching staff also includes the only non-sexist at Sky Sports, Martin Tyler.

Whilst the glory days of the mid to late 90s have passed, Kinstonian are currently enjoying a stable period in the Isthmian Premier having recently escaped the clutches of Step 4, following promotion in 2009. I was (un)fortunate enough to see them lift the Isthmian Division 1 South title that year as they beat Dulwich 2-1 in Craig Edwards’ last game in charge of Dulwich. That was the last time I saw Kingstonian and here I was, back with the Hamlet; determined to see the Pink and Blues depart victorious.

Park the bus.  Norbiton Station is about a 10 minute walk from Kingsmeadow, although if you are after a few jars on the way to/from the ground, I suggest you go the extra stop into Kingston. The walk out of town along London Road and then Cambridge Road will take you no more than 20 minutes at the very most. If you’re coming by car, there is plenty of parking although access is via a single road so it might take a while to get out on busy matchdays.

Homefield advantage.  We covered a lot of ground when we visited last year, so I’m going to focus on the bits restricted by the Blue Square Powers that be.

Entry, despite being cheap (reduced to a bargain £7 for this County Cup tie) was potentially more tricky than expect as Kingmeadow seem to be operating some sort of No Fat Chicks policy on the turnstiles. Luckily, it was more spacious than initially feared but non-leaguers aren’t exactly renowned for their svelte physiques and I can think of some who would struggle. Still, it means there’ll be plenty of chips for the rest of us so no bad thing.

Once through, I was delighted to see some badges for sale.  Terry’s Badges, a massive highlight of visit #1 and of many visiting supporter’s trips to Kingsmeadow were not there but another vendor with the same level of passion for pins had turned up. WHilst his collection was admirable (especially for a monday night match, he didn’t seem to have the same gravitas Terry.

Either the button-on business isn’t as lucrative as he hoped or he didn’t think the Dulwich massive would be big spenders. Whatever the truth, instead of a majestic table in the style of Terry’s Badges, had been replaced with the top of a wheelie bin.

Get your badges/recycling here

Optimistically, they were trying to push a Hamlet badge for £20. We might be pink and blue dandies from the right side of the tracks but we’re not idiots. In fairness, the amiable bin/badge attendant admitted that badge might  not actually be worth £25 and in fact he seemed willing to let it go for a fiver. I guess when you’re trading out of waste receptacles, you don’t have much leverage, especially when the colours are wrong. Maybe that’s what drove the price up.

Come on you Pink and...er...Reds?

It’s always hard to imagine Kingsmeadow as a league ground, it feels very Step 1-2 and it seems fitting that the K’s still call the place home, and rightly so. Few improvements seem to have been undertaken to account for their tenant’s/host’s lofty new position. A few extra seats were noticeable on each end of the main stand and a subbuteo-esque TV tower now sits above the stand on the other flank. Unlike the prissy world of League 2 or even Step 1, there’s an easy path to allow you to roam freely around the ground.

Being able to explore to our hearts content, we marched into Kingstonian’s excellent, if not slightly hidden bar. The bar can be reached either from the back of the main stand or, far more pleasingly, down the tunnel. As we marched onward for a Monday evening livener, my eye was drawn to a small broom cupboard next to the bar. Adorned with red and white, this tiny wee room was a goldmine of Kingstonian swag that almost rivalled the majesty of Sutton.

As well as a plethora of Kingstonian related goodies, I was delighted to stumble (quite literally) upon a pile of old programmes and second-hand books and VHS tapes, many of which were familiar from my youth. The Saint Michael (M&S to our younger readers) guide to American Football was a particular highlight from my childhood but it was the History of Soccer, a three tape epic through the beautiful game, that I have the fondest memories of. As a young lad growing up in deepest darkest Spain, this boxed set, together with the Story of the World Cup, ET: The Extra Terrestrial and a fuzzy feed of Gibraltar TV from 300 miles away were my only English Language companions. If only they had a copy of Alex Kid on the Sega Master System, I would have been in my element.

Prawn sandwiches. The bar itself is a good space and manned by couple of proper old school bar-types complete with short-sleeved shirt and tie. Unlike Champion Hill which promises much from its four real ale pumps but perennially fails to deliver anything more than London Pride (if you’re lucky), Kingsmeadow seems to have a rotating guest ale, on this occasion a taste of the motherland in the form of Deuchars IPA.

The main tea bar was shut so food and hot drinks came from of a burger van parked at the end of the main stand. I didn’t partake in anything but there seemed to be a hell of a lot of smoke or coming from there. Maybe some Steamed Hams were on the menu.

Kingstonian's Blernsball honours board

…and the game. As you might expect, neither team fielded a full strength eleven. However, considering both sides were in action two days before, it was heartening to see both sides come out and have good go. Still, you know you’re in for a cracker when the teams run out to Rule the World by Tears for Fears.

Kingstonian are a decent looking side and they looked comfortable throughout most of the first half. They seem like a well organised bunch for the most part although questions do have to be raised about their big number five, Ian Gayle, who looked decidedly uncomfortable throughout.

Kings opened the scoring early with a bold shot-cum-cross from Allan Tait from fully 40 yards, deceiving all and sundry, including most of his own teammates.  Despite this pretty slow start from the Hamlet (due in part to massive delays on the trains meaning the some of the squad didn’t exactly have their game-face on), the pink and blues improved steadily and were unlucky to fall behind to a goal from hapless defender turned super striker, Gayle, midway through the half.

The second half started positively for Dulwich as Ian Gayle’s dodgy back-pass let Omarr Lawson clean through on goal to make it 2-1 in the 46th minute. In truth, I was still raiding the club shop when Dulwich scored so the above description is pieced together from the most reliable sources of the Hamlet Rabble although I prefer the double-overhead kick, ricocheting off the back of the goalie descriptions that also seemed to be doing the rounds.

Kingstonian looked more than happy with a 2-1 lead and seemed over complacent at times as Dulwich continued to attack but Kingstonian dealt with the pink and blue onslaught with ease as the Hamlet rarely tested Rob Tolfrey in the Kingstonian goal. In the end Kings were worthy winners…just, and will go on to face Cray Wanderers in the semi before a potential final against either Hendon or (squatters) AFC Wimbledon.

Post-match rubdown. Kingsmeadow is a great wee place. It’s hardly cut out for league football but for Step 3, it’s a bloody nice ground. Kingstonian were relatively entertaining and whilst it’s hard to judge a team based on a performance in a County Cup against a team from the division below, they seemed to have a number of talented players who, with a few additions, may make them highly competitive in the Isthmian Premier next season. I just hope Dulwich are in there with them.

Fisher FC

7 Jan

Champion Hill, Dulwich

Kent League (Step 5)

2 January 2012

Fisher FC 0 v Beckenham Town 4 (att 142 )

Team talk. Eagle eyed readers of this blog will know that we have written about Champion Hill before on a visit to see Dulwich Hamlet. This blog entry will focus on Fisher FC. A more detailed description of the ground can be found here.

The club formally known as Fisher Athletic dates back to 1908, formed originally to provide recreational facilities for underprivileged kids in the Bermondsey area. Despite the fan songs and club emblem suggesting that the club name may refer to the sea, Fisher is actually a reference to Catholic Saint, John Fisher.

The high point of the club must be their time spent in the Conference Premier between 1986 and 1991 – although this was followed by successive relegations. Further success came between 2005 and 2008 when they played in the Conference South. The recent off the pitch history is complex, but in short the club moved to ground share with Dulwich Hamlet at Champion Hill in 2004 while a new stadium was developed for Fisher in the Surrey Docks area. Financial difficulties led to the club being wound up in 2009. They reformed almost straight way, owned by a supporters trust, continuing to play at Dulwich Hamlet but in the Kent League, they also dropped the Athletic from the name to be called Fisher FC. The “back to Bermondsey” badges available at the turnstile suggests that finding a new home in Bermondsey is still a major aspiration for the club.

This season Fisher have made good progress in what is a really strong Kent league. Both Fisher and Beckenham Town are contesting for play off places and a win for either team today would move them a step further.

This was the first game of the New Year for me and the game choice really came down to a toss up between this and Erith & Belvedere v Erith Town. The Fisher game looked like the better of the two matches but I was initially resistant due to the club ground sharing at Champion Hill, home to my own team Dulwich Hamlet. Now I don’t have any objection to ground sharing, such arrangements have no doubt kept some clubs afloat and have on occasion proved worthwhile for both teams. No, my resistance to seeing Fisher play at Champion Hill was something far more primitive, almost a sense that it would be disloyal to Dulwich.

…..and the game. Reservations aside, seeing Fisher ended up just feeling a little strange rather than anything else – like that episode of the Twilight Zone where someone wakes up in a world that is familiar yet something is not quite right. It was like a visit to Champion Hill… but not. Where was Griff on the turnstile, Bill the programme seller, where was Mick pestering me for a quid for the golden goal, where was the rabble (nickname for the Dulwich fans). And more importantly WHERE WAS THE PINK AND BLUE???

Being a seasoned ground hopper nowadays I soon got over all this and settled down to watch what was an entertaining game. Personally I thought that 4-0 flattered Becks slightly and there is no doubt that this was a massive result for them. Having seen both teams before I know that they each play great football going forward and neither disappointed today, they are a real credit to the Kent league. If anything were to separate the teams I would say that Becks had a physical edge that Fisher just could not cope with and made all the difference. Fisher were also guilty of a few defensive lapses. As with our recent visit to see Fisher play Cray Valley (Paper Mills), Chan Quan looked impressive on the wing. Alfie Nunn also continues to look good for Beckenham.

A more detailed match report can be found on the Fisher website here.

Pink and who?

Post game rub down. Visiting your ground share is a bit weird and ultimately if you are anywhere near Champion Hill (or even if you are not) I would urge you to wear the pink and blue of Dulwich. That said, the Fisher faithful are a good lot and if you like your football songs with a tinge of irony and good humour then they may be the team for you.

Erith Town

5 Dec

03 December 2011

Kent Premier League

Erith Town 04  v  Holmesdale FC 03 (att. 33 – looked more like 15)

Erith Stadium, Erith

Team Talk. Like the ever-fattening goose, like the children preparing to be touched by Noel Edmonds’ kindness and like the BBC junior desperately trying to remaster an old version of Pets Win Prizes, I too am aware that xmas is coming. With diaries filling up, this Saturday represented one of my last opportunities to hop to a new ground. So casting away a trip to the Hamlet, I headed over t0 Erith to see what The Dockers had to offer.

Unlike most of the South London teams that we’ve written about, Erith are not a club rich in history. Erith were originally founded as a Sunday league team in 1959 as Woolwich Town and have only been in the business of Saturday football since 1991 when they entered the famed, and still relatively hard to research (take it from me), Spartan League. Apart from a sideways move to the Kent League in 1996, from their promotion spot in the Spartan 1st Division, they have been in the same division since formation. In recent years, Erith haven’t troubled the top of the league despite some quite phenomenal goalscoring from time-travelling Roman gladiator, Marcus Cassius, whose 43 goals in the 08-09 season had surprisingly little impact. You can tell that times have been quiet at Erith Town by the fact that their Manager of the Month awards are listed in the Club’s Honours.

Tenacious D. (Ives)

Having started out in Woolwich before moving to Eltham to ground share with Greenwich Borough in the early 90s, Erith have been playing at their current home since 1995 when a deal was reached to use facilities linked to the adjoining Council-run leisure centre and swimming pool. Despite being referred to as the Erith Stadium, it appears that the actual name of the ground is the David Ives Stadium who, according to the plaque (which was seemingly written by a Championship/Football Manager fan), was “tenacious” in championing improvements to the facilities.

Today’s game saw 9th placed Erith taking on their former landlord’s current landlord, Holmesdale, who play in the back end of Bromley. Erith’s home form in the league has been excellent with only one loss so far this season. Holmesdale, have been resurgent of late picking up 10 points in 5 games to lift the Dalers into 11th.

Both Holmesdale and Erith faced Dulwich in preseason and I was impressed with both of the sides. Holmesdale (who have since seen Fabio Rossi appointed as manager) beat out a Dulwich academy side 3-2, whilst a more established Hamlet team drew 0-0 with Erith. As a result, I was keen to see how both sides were getting on.

It’s safe to say there’s not much to do in Erith. They have public art on their roundabouts, they have a Christmas tree festival (a FESTIVAL) and they have London’s largest waste incinerator, but apart from that, it’s a wee bit quiet. That said, they must all be doing something interesting as they weren’t at the Erith Stadium, where the attendance was less than 30.

Fishy business

Park the bus. The Erith Stadium is an easy 8 minute stroll from Erith Station, through a quiet residential suburb. I’m always amazed at the frequency of trains running to places like Erith. Amazed but, in this instance, very happy. Trains leave London Bridge for Erith via Greenwich every 10 minutes and the trip takes around half an hour.

Being linked to a massive leisure centre has some benefits, there’s ample parking and the ground’s location – a short way off the A206 – makes the option of arriving by car ever so tempting.

Homefield advantage. If there’s one thing we love at the Pigeon Stands, it’s the option of seeing some additional sports on our footballing adventures. Therefore, I was understandably delighted to find a public bowling green on the approach to the ground. Being winter, this glorious rink was deserted but would make any visit between March and October even more worthwhile.

Bowling for soup

After getting lost in the leisure centre campus, something that regularly happens to me in municipal buildings, I found my way to the entrance: a small hut manned by a jolly chap who was keen to point out all of the sights in the ground. At the Erith Stadium, you have to position yourself in the main (read: only) stand, however, the chap was kind enough to allow me to walk round the far side providing I was back on the flank for kick off.

Stop. Hammer Time.

Contrary to popular opinion, I love a running track around a football pitch. I like knickknacks and the prospect of subs practising their shot-put releases and hurdling techniques. I also don’t think the view is all that bad.

It's a steeplechase, not a sprint

The other benefit to a running track is a tasty looking wheel-out technical area. Be the gaffer wherever you like; in this case, lanes 1 and 2. On the far side the pitch is a very dated dressing room block which also seemed to be the pre-match hangout for the Erith committee.

The main stand runs along just over half the length of the pitch and about half of that is covered. This is a new addition having been added towards the start of last season. Probably about 90% of seats were in good condition, with the remaining few looking like some sort of GCSE biology experiment.

It didn't really fill up

Whilst there is only one stand, the leisure centre doubles as an elevated viewing terrace which seemed popular with the Erith committee, smokers and al-fresco drinkers alike.

Get hench or die...watching Erith

As the terrace is forms part of the main leisure centre, it has some eccentricities. Tannoy (sorry, public-address system) announcements to staff were made at semi-regular intervals and a glass curtain wall gives the swimming children (**insert tasteless Alan Brazil joke here**) downstairs and health-conscious adults of Erith upstairs, the opportunity to watch some football. I personally found that having guys doing bar curls in the weight-room immediately behind me whilst I’m trying to watch football, all a little too intimidating, so I headed to a place I was more accustomed to (despite being within a municipal building): The bar.

Prawn sandwiches. The bar which on non-game days serves the leisure centre is exclusively given over to Erith Town for their home games. That said, it’s still a café in a leisure centre and the manager – who I can only assume is Gordon Brittas – had decreed that Christmas had arrived. Cue the 10 year old decorations. It’s hard to make a bad cup of tea and with no insult to the helpful girls serving, this was unquestionably the most disgusting cuppa I have ever consumed. It’s also the only football club I’ve been to that serves tea out of a Flavia machine (“Kettles are saaaad”).

Festive cheer

The boardroom also resided in the leisure centre. Upon seeing it from outside, I was speechless. WHAT A SPREAD! Considering there were more people in the dressing rooms than the bar, let alone the boardroom, I was amazed at the range of snacks. Like the xmas party of my dreams, there were cocktail sausages, mini quiches, mountains of foil covered sandwiches, cake, more cake. A full-on banquet. Sadly my hopes and those of the salivating directors were dashed as it turned out this feast was being laid out in preparation for a private party later on that evening. Apart from Michael Barrymore, who has a party in a swimming pool? Much to the ire of Erith chairman, Albert Putman, the board were relegated to a side table, an urn of tea with paper cups and a pack of Fox’s Favourites. When a Double Chocolate Viennese and a Golden Crunch looks like sloppy seconds, you know you’ve lost out on something special.

Sorry gov, private party

…and the game. I was thinking that there might be some goals in this one. I was right. Within 2 minutes, Erith were two up. First, big Kirt King slotted in from some good work down the left hand channel where fullback Lee Craig caused Holmesdale trouble all afternoon. Straight from the restart, Erith were on the attack and when the ball broke to Adam Williams he deftly chipped the ball over the hapless Dan Teeley in the Holmesdale goal. The Dockers made it 3 in 10 minutes with a breakaway from a badly placed Holmesdale corner. Williams again picked the ball up and fired home impressively much to the disappointment of Holmesdale’s 2 visiting supporters.

Holmesdale Ultras

Williams completed a remarkable hat-trick six minutes later with a carbon copy of the opener, with yet more good work from Craig down the left and his tantalising cross was eventually turned in by the game’s star performer.

Holmesdale, to their credit, did not look like a side who deserved to be on the end of a pasting and came back into the game thanks to an audacious lob by James Baker on 26 minutes. This was swiftly followed by a penalty which looked for all the world like a foul on the Erith man. Undeterred by Erith’s oddly half-hearted protest, Holmesdale’s Steve Strotton scored to make it 4-2 with two-thirds of the game remaining. Strotton is a fascinating player, not really built for sport, this 100+ kgs of man ran himself into the ground for the full 90 minutes and at no stage did he resort to the knackered overweight guy microjog (something I myself, am particularly adept at). I hope he’s still at Holmesdale when we visit, he might be our latest hero of non-league (after Francis Duku, of course).

Unsurprisingly, the second half was more sedate and Holmesdale looked like the stronger side and the side more likely to score. The difference maker seemed to be the addition of forward Tunde Aderonmu, who, after a period of sustained pressure, netted the Dalers’ third with just under 10 minutes to go. Holmesdale pushed on and, unable to take advantage of the counter attack, Erith remained under pressure deep into a seemingly never-ending period of stoppage time. Luckily for the Dockers, they held on and probably just about warranted the 3 points but Holmesdale will no doubt be ruing their hideous start.

Breaking the law, breaking the law

Man of the match. I’m going to state the obvious: Step 5 is great.  However, the one area that is often a bit of a let-down, is the matchday programme. Even in Step 4, these can be a bit ropey but down in the Kent League and the Combined Counties, they are half-a-dozen sides of basic information hastily produced by some dedicated soul in the boardroom, ten minutes before the turnstiles open. However, down at Erith, I was delighted to receive a super-chunky 40+ pages of information, statistics and even a few bawdy jokes. Like a cross between Rothman’s yearbook and the Viz Annual, it was a delight. To the unknown publisher, a hearty Pigeon Stands salute.

Post-match rubdown. Being attached to a leisure centre, I was fairly sure that this was going to be a relatively sanitised experience and in fairness, it certainly wasn’t as quirky as some of the grounds we’ve visited. That said, it was an entertaining afternoon out. Erith isn’t particularly well supported, whether this is because of the town’s proximity to Gillingham, FC Eurostar and an a strategically positioned Valley Express coach stop or whether it’s because of the easy access to London’s ‘Big’ teams, I do not know, but the good people of Erith certainly aren’t watching the Dockers which is a shame.

The ground is what it is, a pitch in the middle of an athletics track, attached to a swimming pool but whilst a tang of chlorine hangs in the air and puberty-riddled swimming pool lifeguards grab a much needed cigarette in the back of the main stand, Erith Town play some captivating football. Do what the people of Erith won’t and get along to the Erith Stadium. I won’t promise that you’ll love it, but it’s worth a hop.

Thackley FC

11 Nov

04 November 2011

Northern Counties East Premier Division (step 5)

Thackley FC 00  v Scarborough Athletic 05 (att 208)

Dennyfield, Thackley, West Yorkshire

 

Team Talk. A weekend away visiting the folks in Bradford, West Yorkshire and a great chance to visit one of the many local non league teams that I failed to visit in my years growing up here. As a youngster I was too preoccupied with the exploits of Bradford City to give other local teams the time of day. Like excessive nosehair, the love of non league football seems to be something that comes to most of us later in life. Today I am looking to put this injustice right with a visit to Northern Counties East Premier Division (step 5) side Thackley FC – with my 19 year old non-league virgin brother in tow.

Thackley AFC was founded in 1930 by the younger members of Thackley Wesleyan Methodist Church. This was back in the days when Thackley would have been regarded as a stand alone village, before it was swallowed by Bradford. A founding member of the Northern Counties East Football League in 1982, one of Thackley’s most notable footballing achievements is winning the Bradford and District FA Senior Cup on 13 occasions. This is a competition record.

Thackley can count human bean pole and Bradford City legend Ian ‘Stix’ Ormondroyd amongst their former players. Standing at 6 ft 7 inches – my abiding memory of watching Ormondroyd from the stands at Valley Parade as a nipper was his introduction as a super sub. This was always in the 80th minute and always seemed to be with the sole intention of confusing the hell out of tired opposition defenders with his gangly appearance and his never say die attitude. It was Ormondroyd’s willingness to always have a go (despite obvious lack of any real technique – see classic local news footage below of Stix destroying Cardiff) that makes him one of my all time favorite players to have worn the claret and amber of Bradford City. He is also probably the reason for my continuing enthusiasm for the big man up front (ideally accompanied by a very small strike partner). In recent years, players such as Tooting and Mitchum striker Fola Onibuje and former Dulwich Hamlet forward Scott Edgar have paid their own tributes to Ormondroyd on the pitches of south east London. On the issue of tall players, the stat-tastic and always entertaining Best Eleven did a piece on the world’s tallest footballers last year that is worth checking out.

Ian 'Stix' Ormondroyd

Thackley’s opponents today, Scarborough Athletic, were formed in 2007 by the fan-led Seadogs Trust after Scarborough FC went into liquidation. At present the team ground share with current NCEL Premier Division table toppers Bridlington Town.  Despite having to do the 34 mile round trip between Brid and Scarborough around Flamborough Head to get to home games, the team were promoted from NCEL Division One in 2009. Interest in the club has been high and they are starting to get what can only be described as a bit of a cult following. Part of the reason for this has to be the appointment as manager this season of porno-tashed Chuckle brother a-like Rudy Funk and the signing in recent weeks of another Bradford legend – Dean Windass. It is hard to pick just one favourite Windass moment, but the image of his stunned face following a wonder strike against Liverpool at Anfield in 2000 always sticks in the mind.

They've got the funk.... Rudi Funk

Both Thackley and Scarborough have had strong starts to the season. A quick look at the NCEL Premier Division before the game showed that there was only two points between Thackley in 7th and Scarborough in 4th in what is a really tight league this year.  If results went their way Scarborough could be top of the league by the end of the day – so all to play for.

Park the bus. Thackley play at Dennyfield, which is the reason for their nickname the Dennyboys. Talking about the public transport options here seems like a bit of a waste of time as only dossers, children and the old get the bus in Yorkshire. So I will say only this… there is ample parking.

Home Advantage. Access to Dennyfield is maybe a mile or so from central Thackley – up a narrow country lane where the urban fringe soon gives way to dense woodland. Just before you start to think that you have made a wrong turn that could lead to some awful Evil Dead style consequences there is a clearing in the woodland that leads to the big car park for the main ground. The ground sits nicely on the border between the woodland and farmers fields. Readers of this blog will know that the Pigeon Stands love a ground in the middle of nowhere.

The clubhouse is located in the car park, outside the main ground. It is an understated single storey building that resembles a campsite toilet block from the outside – but is far nicer inside.

Club house

Inside the ground all the buildings run along the west side of the pitch. The main turnstile (£5 in plus £1 for a programme) in the south west corner leads straight into a small concreted area with a few tables and chairs close to the real toilet block and  the burger bar. Further down on the west side is the main seated stand (the only covered area at the ground). The rest of the ground is open, allowing views out to the farmers fields.

South west corner

West stand

Inside west stand

East and south sides

Prawn Sandwiches. Despite the external appearance, the clubhouse is really nice. Very welcoming and mercifully warm. There are two big TVs at either end of the bar showing the football scores (none of the horse racing, Dickinson’s deal, or Morse crap that we have seen elsewhere) and the chat in the bar was lively. The biggest news from the bar being the tale of a game at Eccleshill the week before. A goalkeeper was so annoyed at having a goal awarded against him and getting a yellow card for his reaction that he took the ball and locked himself in the changing rooms – leading to the game being called off. I never got around to asking if they had a spare ball that could have been used to finish the game and should imagine that there was bit of Chinese whispers going on – best not to ask and just enjoy the story I reckon.

The burger bar in the ground wins the award for having the cheapest food I have ever seen at a non league football ground. Now I cannot speak for the quality of the food, but pie and peas for £1.70 seems like a bargain to me.

Burger bar venue

Pie and peas. Ow much!!!

and the game. Massive supporter turnout for Scarborough this afternoon – I would say around three quarters of the 208 fans in attendance were Seadogs. Part of the reason for this may have been that Bradford were at home but there is also no doubt that Scarborough have quite a following.

Thackley just never really got going here. Scarborough played a high tempo game with heavy pressing in the midfield that Thackley could not cope with. Even when Thackley got the ball they never really looked like scoring. After three early goals from the Seadogs it looked like Thackley would be on the wrong end of a stuffing. What the home team threatened to start playing towards the end of the first half they conceded another to make it 4-0 at half time.

The second half continued in a similar way to the first and my only criticism of an excellent Scarborough side is that they only managed to score only one more goal in the second half – they should have had another two or three really. A full match report is here

Dean Windass didn’t start the game and was introduced with 20 mins to go. By this time the game had more of an exhibition match feel to it with Thackley all but dead and buried and utterly clueless. Overall Windass was a willing runner and clearly still has the touch. But the counter attacking game that Scarborough were playing by this point didn’t play to his strengths. Windass’s impact was limited to some first rate banter with the linesman who blew him offside quite a few times and at one stage yelled “yer offside again Deano.. come on sort it out”.

We left the game with the chants of “Deano” ringing in our ears. To be fair the adoration would have been better directed at the rest of the Scarborough team. They were excellent, particularly flying wing man Billy Laws (a proper old school footballers name if ever I heard one).

Dean Windass in training

Man of the Match. My 19 year old brother had a great time at the game and may well now come with me to future games in this neck of the woods. This got me thinking about the youngsters who week in and week out shun league football to visit places like Thackley instead. Hats off to any brave kid who has to tell their school classmates that they support Thackley rather than Bradford or Leeds.

Post-match rub-down. Not a bad little club at all. The few Thackley fans in attendance were very welcoming and the setting of the ground certainly gives you a different experience. I bet it’s bloody freezing in the depths of winter though.

Sutton United

3 Oct

1 October 2011

FA Cup 2nd Qualifying Round

Sutton United 05 v Dulwich Hamlet 01 (att. 494)

The Borough Sports Ground/Gander Green Lane, Sutton SM1

Team Talk. On FA Cup Saturday, certain words come to mind, “Romance of the Cup”, “Giant Killing”, “A team of (insert 3 to 5 different non-sporting professions) taking on the might of…”, the list is endless.

Sutton United are possibly the most famous giant killers of the last 25 years, having beaten Coventry City in the third round of the 1989 FA Cup. This momentous game remains the last time that a team from outside of the football league beat a top division side in the cup and so the opportunity to visit them for a cup game was always going to be inviting.

Sutton’s rich history runs much deeper than a single high-ish profile victory. Having been established in 1898, Sutton claimed their first senior title, the Athenian League in 1928, a title they won twice more including a victory in the first season of competition after the Second World War. Unlike so many of South London’s clubs whose primary exploits have taken place in the pre-war years, it’s Sutton’s more recent history that contains many of their biggest achievements, with 4 of their 5 Isthmian League titles having been won in the past 25 years.

As well as league success, the U’s (sic) are famed cup specialists (although they’re certainly not heading towards the Champions League of Grammar (although SUFC believe they’d just scrape into the group stages)). As well as domestic trophies, they hold the honour of being the only team to play in three Anglo-Italian Cup finals, winning it once (in 1979) and in the process, joining Newcastle, Notts County, Blackpool and Swindon as the only English victors.

But it’s the FA Cup which has shone most favourably on Sutton. The club first made it big in 1970 when they reached the 4th Round where they faced Don Revie’s Leeds United. Hunter, Bremner, Charlton, Lorimer at al all graced the Gander Green Lane pitch that afternoon as 14,000 fans watched on as Sutton were shown the pimp-hand and took a 6-0 beating as Leeds marched on to the Final of that year’s competition.

Lorimer makes it five for Leeds. (c) http://www.mightyleeds.co.uk

Briefly deterred from domestic cup action, Sutton waited another 11 years before their next taste of success, an appearance in the final of the 1981 FA trophy final, a game they would lose to Bishop’s Stortford.

Sutton made it back to FA Cup 3rd round on a further three occasions, firstly in 1988 when they hosted Middlesbrough and took them to a replay at Ayresome Park, only to lose 1-0. Most recently, in 1993 they lost to Notts County, who the following year added insult to injury by taking Sutton’s crown of being the last English side to win the Anglo-Italian Cup.

Sandwiched between these two fine cup displays is the historic 3rd round win versus Cov which can’t go without a little bit more of a mention. On January 7th 1989, nearly 8,000 fans crammed into the Borough Sports Ground to witness history as Matt Hanlan scored the winner in a 2-1 victory. The likes of Steve Sedgely, Davie Speedie and  Steve “Oggy” Ogrizovich were humbled and frustrated by the U’s mighty efforts and poor Cyrille Regis found the Sutton net even more elusive than his own Panini sticker from the 92-93 season (not that I’m still bitter or anything).

During this time Sutton were a high-flying Step 1 Conference outfit, however, over the course of the past two decades, they have slipped down the Pyramid, although promotion last season and a very positive start to the 2011-12 campaign suggest that Sutton are hunting down those glory days.

Speaking of glory days, Sutton’s opponents in this 2nd qualifying round tie were Dulwich Hamlet who find themselves atop the Isthmian League Division 1 South for the first time in years. This meant that some of us entered the Borough Sports Ground with the hope of seeing yet another giant killing, this time for the away side. Being somewhat of a lucky mascot for cup underdogs (witnessing both Wrexham v Arsenal in 1992 and Crawley v Derby last year), I was optimistic to say the least. I shouldn’t have been.

I also have to mention the odd and slightly irregular link between Sutton and Gambia. One day a few years ago a holidaymaker known only as ‘Walter’ struck up a friendship with the then Sanchaba United faithful/players, gave them a load of kit and suggested they change their name to Sutton United (Gambia). Mental. Nevertheless, the two sides have become close allies with the London U’s providing mentoring and guidance to their Gambian counterparts. Impressively Sutton Utd (Gambia) often get bigger gates than their mentors. Surely a two-legged pre-season friendly between the two sides can’t be far away?

Down in front! Sutton United (Gambia) prepare for war...hopefully not civil

Park the Bus. The Borough Sports Ground is located less than 5 minutes from West Sutton railway station and around a 20 minute walk from Sutton station. A trip from London Bridge will take you about 45 minutes.

Home-field Advantage. The Borough Sports Ground also known as Gander Green Lane has been home to Sutton United since 1912 and by looks of it little has been done to improve it in this time. In many ways this is a good thing, it’s a charming wee ground with lots of character. Although unpopular with many – me included – is the remnants of the running track which originally surrounded the pitch. Despite the track since been removed, the rails, and therefore the support, remain some distance from the pitch.

Renovations are due in the near future as Sutton continue their quest to return to Step 1. It’s about time too, as the remnants of earlier works are starting to look a bit worn themselves. The bright blue seats in the main stand, a donation from Chelsea following the refurbishment of part of Stanford Bridge, are somewhat of an anomaly for a team playing in yellow but are a telling reminder of the influence of London’s bigger sides, it’s nice that for once, this isn’t a negative influence. Nevertheless, they’ve come to the end of their natural life and I’m sure the Sutton faithful would welcome some shiny new yellow seats…or at least a nice hand-me-down from Carrow Road.

There’s also some less-than-Emirates-standard directors’ seating, which come in a fetching brown and are located in a rich mahogany box (possibly just varnished MDF) to keep the plebs away from the high-powered brokers of sport that frequent the Blue Square South.

On the other sideline is a covered terrace running about half the length of the pitch. This was home to the most vocal members of the Sutton support, they’re not the not the Curva Sud, but considering I’d heard they were a virtually silent support, they were louder than some had led me to believe.

One end has a small covered Pigeon Stand and the other is open, both feature around a dozen rows of shallow terracing. In spite of the rather pedestrian rake, the viewing angle is far better the top of the steps than being on the railings and because the old running track, you only feel negligibly further away from the action.

Prawn Sandwiches. Eateries are plentiful at the Borough Sports Ground. A tea hut on each sideline means that you never have to stray too far from the action for a brew. There’s sadly no drinking outside but a trip to the bar is highly recommended. Similar to Kingsmeadow, access to the bar is via the player’s tunnel. For big kids such as myself, this is still a massive thrill. One wrong turn and I could have been helping to dish out the pre-match speech. As it is, I had to make do with a quick pint.

The bar is not without its charms. It’s reminiscent of a campsite recreation room with a sort of medical green paint, clearly donated from the local hospital. There were plenty of photos of Sutton teams throughout the ages as well as a large charidee scarf marking up the donations to the local hospice (presumably in return for some more leftover paint) and impressively, a dart board. A rare find and almost worthy of a trip to Sutton in itself.

The notice-boards at these places are always worth a butcher’s, Sutton is no different. On sifting though the usual stuff about the under 12s team and pleas for matchday volunteers, my eye was drawn to a poster for Gentleman’s Evening. Sounds fun, eh? A swanky night on the tiles with some of Sutton’s leading lights. Now, throw into that a guest speaker? Maybe Mr Neil “Razor” Ruddock? Jackpot. Well worth the £40 admission charge, I’m sure you’d all agree. If they had only added a personal appearance from Barry Chuckle, you might just have the best night out ever.

…and the game. Without wanting to sound like a total knobber, I’d forgotten what defeat tasted like for Dulwich. At 5pm last Saturday, I remembered. It’s shit. Drunken discussions about how I though this current Hamlet side would give a League 2 side a good run for their money proved (as you might expect) to be the booze-addled ramblings of deluded man. Sutton looked like they played two divisions better and the scoreline didn’t really flatter them, in truth they could have happily put 7 or 8 past us. Right from kick-off, Sutton attacked with journeyman Leroy Griffiths richly deserving his hat-trick. Once ahead, Sutton relied on attacking Dulwich on the break, a tactic that’s served the Hamlet well over the past few weeks. The most exciting point in the game was just after the break when Sutton made it 2-0, only for Dulwich to score from the kick-off thanks to a defensive blunder (much to my joy) from ex-Celtic man Paul Telfer. With one eye on a reply at Champion Hill, Hamlet switched off and less than 2 minutes later, Sutton had restored their two goal lead. Thrilling stuff for those of us who drink our half time drinks swiftly but incredibly frustrating for those who don’t and consequently fell foul of Sutton’s pitchside booze embargo as they remained in the bar after the restart.

Man of the match. Easy one this week. Our award goes to Alison,the manager of Sutton’s Club Shop and her staff. I think it’s possibly the finest non-league shop I’ve visited. In fact, it probably rivals a lot of league grounds. Inauspicious from the outside, it contains an Aladdin’s Cave of Sutton-related merchandise: kits both old and new, books, TWO different rulers, pens, badges from around the world, even a collection of DVDs from some of Sutton’s glory days were all available alongside the usual selection of programmes, scarves and mugs. It felt like a real labour of love and was one of the few personal positives to come out of my afternoon.

Post-match rub down. Certainly, the huddled masses hadn’t turned out in 1970 numbers or even 1989 numbers. Sadly it’s hardly surprising that in places like Sutton, the draw to the likes of Chelsea (in particular), Palace, and Arsenal have an ever-tightening stranglehold. Still, on a baking hot afternoon, I was a tad disappointed to see that Sutton couldn’t pull in a bigger crowd, especially considering it’s been more than a decade since these two sides played competitively and this was once a fairly tasty rivalry. Maybe paying £11 was a step too far to watch Sutton play a team from two divisions below.

Sutton are decent enough side to watch who at the very least look like they’ll be competitive in the Blue Square South. I think their current position of 4th in the league is a tad false and I doubt they’ll be in the playoff picture come May but they look like a decent mid-table outfit. Their football might not be the most attractive (although in fairness, I don’t know if they got out of second gear), but it’s effective and ultimately, that’s what matters. Their support, at least those that were old enough to vote, seemed knowledgeable and reasonably hospitable. The younger ones, a tad less so, with the little toe-rags assuming that our dandy pink and blues were the colours of a paedophile and made us all look like ‘Pink Faggots’. Safe to assume that Jack Wills won’t be opening a branch on Sutton High Street any time soon.

Beckenham Town

4 Sep

3 September 2011

FA Cup Preliminary Round

Beckenham Town 3 v Walton Casuals 1

Eden Park, Beckenham

Team Talk. Non-league day comes but once a year. The day when Premier League clubs are not in action and their supporters are encouraged to sample the delights of non league football. While non league day represents a much needed cash injection for the clubs, for me it is also a chance to show that the non league game is serious business with clubs, players and fans for whom the game means every bit as much as their league counterparts. It is a matter of pride god damn it.

Beckenham have started the season in pretty reasonable form. Something that fans of the club must be pleasantly surprised by as their pre season was horrendous. This included back to back 6-0 losses against AFC Wimbledon and Tonbridge Angels and a horrific string of defeats against Maidstone Utd (1-5), Welling Utd (1-5) and Herne Bay (2-4). Unfortunately Beckenham Town cancelled their final pre-season friendly against the mighty (and free scoring) Dulwich Hamlet. This was reportedly due to the Eden Park pitch being unavailable for the game. Naturally many amongst the Hamlet faithful opined that Beckenham’s dreadful form had led to them wussing out on the fixture.

Visitors today, Walton Casuals, could perhaps have done without the spotlight of non league day shining on them having started the new season with four straight losses, a start that is described diplomatically on their website as “indifferent”.  Surely they would be hoping that a victory in the FA Cup Preliminary would be just what they needed to get them out of their funk. Those turning up expecting Walton Casuals to put 5 or 6 past lower league opposition would however be disappointed.

Beckenham Town FC, the team formally known as Stanhope Rovers, have been knocking around the Kent league since the 1982/3 season. Beckenham’s best performance in the Kent League was in the 2005/6 season where a team managed by current Dulwich Hamlet manager Gavin Rose missed out on promotion in the last game of the season. The team has a long standing link with Crystal Palace, having been a feeder club for Palace in the 1950s. More recently, former Crystal Palace owner Mark Goldberg played for and managed the club in the 1980s.

Park the bus. Beckenham Town play at Eden Park, a few minutes walk from Eden Park rail station which is served by frequent trains from Charing Cross and Canon Street. Parking is available on site but is not advised as it’s a bit of a free for all.

Total gridlock

Home Advantage. Beckenham Town have called Eden Park home since 1980. The entrance is rather unassuming and the masses of parked cars (see above) on the narrow strip of land that takes you to the turnstiles does not make for much of a welcome.

This all changes once you get beyond the turnstile, as the cluttered feel is replaced with an expanse of green, provided by Beckenham’s main playing pitch and large warm up/reserves pitch that runs parallel.

Turnstiles

The timber club house that runs most of the length of the turnstile end of the pitch is a real treat, housing the bar, burger bar, dressing rooms, and no doubt a fine board room for treating those visiting dignitaries. The building looks like it dates from well before the 1980s and makes you wonder if it was brought in from elsewhere. Or perhaps it dates from pre-Beckenham Town days, as it resembles some form of cricket pavilion, a feel that is added to by the grassed area between the clubhouse and the pitch which is effectively used as a beer garden for chilling and watching the game, lovely.

Clubhouse

Clubhouse entrance

Cover around the pitch at Eden Park is limited to four short and open pigeon stands (two at the turnstile end and one on either side of the pitch) and a similarly short seated main stand on one side. The lack of cover did not matter to us as (1) it was scorching hot and (2) our seating was sorted early on as we stumbled upon a timber bench that can only be described as pure luxury. Whilst it resembled something my granddad would put in his garden, this was easily the most comfortable seat I have sat in at a football match to date and it kept us from moving for most of the first half. Even the local children, who were stood in front of us, sat down to give us a better view of the pitch (cheers kids).

Clubhouse end

Clubhouse end pigeon stand

Side pigeon stand

Main seated side stand

Seating in the main side stand

While we basked like pigs in muck on our luxury bench, guarding it jealously from all those who dared to even look twice at it, we were slightly crestfallen as we saw what was by far the best seat in the house. This must have been the directors box, a single seat placed on raised scaffolding between the dugouts. Accessed from a window cleaner’s ladder at the rear and resembling something between a tennis umpires seat and a diving board, this clearly gave a panoramic and unrivaled view of the action.

VIP seats

The directors box

Other features of interest at the ground included a classy “Welcome to Beckenham Town FC” etched (almost certainly with a stick) in the concrete at one of the entrances to the pitch, and the variety of warning signs placed around the pitch, including the obligatory “no ball games” (always a classic).

Prawn Sandwiches. If the exterior of the clubhouse at Beckenham has something of the 1950s about it, the bar inside is altogether different. Clearly recently refurbished and done out like a trendy wine bar, even the part of the bar referred to as the “old gits corner” was plush by non-league standards. To maintain the slightly seating related theme, the bar was set off by flash sofas that would not have looked out of place in the houses of Kensington and Chelsea. Drinks were very reasonably priced (ale – £2.70, cider £3) and there was even the option of watching Come Dine With Me on a telly in the bar if we didn’t fancy the second half. Beckenham Town really know how to treat supporters and visitors alike.

Inside club house

Bar - old gits corner

Similarly well priced were the burgers (£2) which were served up with a smile by hospitality manager Yvonne from a hole in the wall next the bar.

Burger hole

and the game. Despite the reservations beforehand, this turned out to be a fine game. This never looked like a game between two teams that were low on confidence. Nor did this Beckenham side look like the same team who were described as looking “a little out of shape” by the authors of this blog during our visit to VCD Athletic last season.

In fact the football on display was of high quality with Walton in particular showing some lovely touches early on and making a push for goal. This effort was rewarded with the award of a penalty after 15 mins which allowed the visitors to go one up. Becks responded fantastically by pinning the Walton defence back for long periods of the first half. The leveler for Beckenham was the conclusion of an incisive breakaway on the half hour mark that was coolly finished by the outstandingly named Elstrom Die.

As they had played at such a high tempo in the first half we suspected that Beckenham would run out of steam in the second and could be ripe for a pounding. However this proved not to be the case and, led by their talismanic striker Die, they soldiered on. Yes I can confirm that Beckenham Town DIE HARD (sorry).

In reality it was always going to take something pretty special to separate these two teams. And special it was, a goal of such sublime comedy that even the Edinburgh Fringe’s annual comedians v critics charity match could not have produced it. Starting harmlessly enough from one of the many Becks breakaways, things descended into madness with an edge of box drive that looked set for the top corner. To the surprise of many the ball hit the underside of the crossbar, remaining in play and then cannoning off an unsuspecting Walton defender in the six yard box. The ball then somehow managed to find its way to hitting the keeper square in the face before landing in the back of the net. Even the linesman could not help but laugh uncontrollably as the keeper sat clutching his face in agony. While I was not able to film the incident this video should give a flavour of the hilarity.

Oh yes, and Becks scored a third to guarantee their place in the next round of the FA cup and leave us having watched a thoroughly entertaining game.

Shots of the action (but unfortunately not one of the keeper taking one in the face – so to speak) can be found here

Man of the Match. “Non league day is a brilliant idea” not my words but the words of ex England winger and mullet wearer Chris “looked a bit lazy but was actually mint” Waddle. Waddle should know as he is the proud ambassador of non-league day. More importantly the day is also endorsed by Dulwich Hamlet man mountain Francis “the Count” Duku, and trust me you do not mess with the Dukes if you know what’s good for you. In fact, to maximise support for next year’s non league day I would suggest a poster campaign like this:

Seriously though, non league day is only in its second year and already feels like a much anticipated part of the non-league calendar. This can only be down to the hard work of my men and women of the match, the organisers of non –league day. Let’s also not forget those of us who attend non league games week in week out who have also done a great job spreading the word.

Post-match rub-down. Right, Beckenham Town. What can I say other than they appeared to be a well supported club with a team that play the game the right way. Did I also happen to mention the quality of the seats?

Tooting and Mitcham United

17 Aug

16 August 2011

Pre-season Friendly

Tooting and Mitcham United 5 v Guyana (Golden Jaguars UK) 1 (att c.150)

Imperial Fields, Morden, SM4

Pre-match warm-up. Summer is dead. Football has returned. With appetites whetted vehemently from a long pre-season, teams are slowly getting their leagues up and running. The start of most of the English Leagues last Saturday means that very few corners of the Pyramid are yet to kick a ball in anger.

Predictably, the Isthmian League is one such corner, therefore, we’re forcing ourselves into one last preseason game before our lot resume normal service.

Yesterday, I think it’s safe to say, was no normal day as Tooting and Mitcham lined up against an international powerhouse…Guyana, 114th in the FIFA rankings. How could I pass up this moment of excitement and sheer bemusement? International football. Live. In Morden.

Do not adjust your sets. Guyana. YES. Guyana

Of course club sides have been known to take on international teams on special occasions in the past. My Bradfordian co-Pigeon Stander remembers fondly the day he saw England play the Bantams at Valley Parade to commemorate the Bradford City Fire. Mercifully yesterday’s encounter was about something less horrific and the only thing on fire was Tooting & Mitcham striker Billy Dunn.

First off, I should explain that Tooting & Mitcham are the closest thing Dulwich Hamlet have to a rival. At a distance of over 6 miles, it’s not a rivalry born out of geography, it is a matter of history. Croydon Athletic, are a full mile closer to Champion Hill than Tooting but whilst there’s not much love lost, they are little more than a Bank Holiday fixture for Dulwich.

In Tooting, Dulwich Hamlet have a snake to their mongoose.  They are scum, sub-human scum. I had always vowed never to visit Imperial Fields unless on Hamlet duty, however the prospect of a ridiculous friendly and the thought that Dulwich may have to wait some time before lining up in deepest, darkest Morden meant that I left my prejudices at the turnstile and got psyched up for a festival of transcontinental football.

Sadly both rooms were closed so I had to make do with the Bar Zone

Team Talk.  As you may have guessed by the name, Tooting and Mitcham United are the consequence of an interwar merger between Tooting Town and Mitcham Wanderers. Neither had a particularly decorated history and the unification – several years in the offing – was designed to yield success. Eventually, in 1958 the dream became a reality as The Terrors  lifted their first Isthmian League title. This success was quickly followed by a tremendous run in the FA Cup resulting in a 3rd Round tie at home to Nottingham Forest. After a brave 2-2 draw, Forest won the replay and went on to win the cup. Most painfully for the elder generation of Hamlet supporters, Tooting’s success continued into the 1959/60 season as a crowd of nearly 17,000 watched Tooting and Mitcham beat Dulwich in the decider for the Isthmian league title.

The original Trading Places. Eddie Murphy scores for Tooting versus Forest. c. British Pathe

Tooting and Mitcham currently play in the Ryman’s Premier and their game with Guyana is the final warm-up before their campaign to avoid relegation begins on 20th August.

Their opponents last night were Guyana’s Golden Jaguars (ranked between Wales and Guatemala) who had planned on this game being a warm-up for the UK-based members of the national side as they prepared for a 4 team mini-tournament. Unfortunately, the only game to survive was the various organisational mishaps was match against Tooting.

Sadly, this kind of boobery has plagued Caribbean football in London of late thanks in no small part to the bungled efforts of several companies out to make a quick buck.

First, there was a firm of agents known as Temptation Promotions. Disappointingly, there’s no connection with Motown, just a group of self-promoting likely lads who seem more interested in increasing their exposure than that of their clients. Probably why their roster is stagnating somewhat with the highest profile name currently on their books being Kettering forward and big fan of knives, Moses Ashikodi. It’s hardly IMG is it? To be honest, calling yourself  Temptation Promotions isn’t really going to attract a Wayne Rooney (or even a Kwame Ampadu) to your front door. You’d be as well calling yourselves Caught Roasting Promotions.

All of a sudden, a well-meaning but seemingly stop-start football school, the Solid Rock Academy, have emerged and are now is trying to get in on the Guyanese football cash cow. The company seems to share numerous traits of Temptation Promotions (including a mean cover of “My Girl”) so I’m naturally sceptical that the two entities may be effectively be the same animal…probably a reptile. Still, if you do fancy being either coached or represented by the Beebop and Rocksteady of the football world, give the guys a call.

Sadly, despite the hype (from our end alone), there was no pomp and ceremony on show. No steel drums, no flags not even a rendition of Guyana’s national anthem. I felt mildly cheated.

The Guyanese media assemble for the beam-back to Georgetown

Park the bus. Mitcham tram stop is around 5 minute walk north of the stadium. Those less keen on travelling like a Dutchman can go to Morden on the Northern Line (around 40 minutes from London Bridge) and take a pleasant 20 minute walk along the River Wandle to the stadium. Parking is free and there are usually Morden enough spaces. Sorry.

Not exactly San Francisco, but it'll do

Home Advantage. Imperial Fields (Dulwich code-name: Venereal Fields) has been home to The Terrors since 2002 when Tooting and Mitcham left their dilapidated Sandy Lane ground which failed its safety certificates and was deemed a fire hazard.

Happily, Imperial Fields was the replacement and much like the Hamlet’s own ‘new’ ground is has not merely endeavoured to ticking the FA’s Ground Regulation boxes, but also seeks to provide a decent spectator experience.

The ground is a bit like a Bizarro World Champion Hill. It’s similar, yet all wrong. Like Champy, there’s a gym attached which offers good views of the pitch for those wanting to get hench and watch some football.

This was one of several free viewing opportunities the local natives seemed to take advantage of. I’ve always found this football-equivalent of dogging to be rather demeaning, especially for non-league football. It’s like stealing from Oxfam.

Football Dogging

...and another

and ANOTHER!

Imperial Fields has three stands and an uncovered area on the far byline. The covered terraces behind the goals are much larger than usually seen at this level and offered some excellent elevated views of the action rarely seen at this level, although their Brutalist Soviet style is quite overpowering. The main stand holds 600 seats and has a club shop and tea hut at the back. It’s pretty plush. Alas, the whole thing is let down slightly by preventing supporters from walking around the sand with the technical area blocked off by the Main Stand and an odd TV tower on the far side, blocking our circumnavigation.

The Tooting Faithful in their Pigeon Stand. Not a patch on the Hamlet Rabble

The club shop was well stocked with a full supply of Tooting oddities and a nice ranges of books and programmes. I managed to pick up a few Dulwich programmes including one from our last league meeting with Tooting, a fine 4-1 win in 2008, something the guy at the till didn’t seem to want reminding of.

Beckham, Gazza, Mugs. Literally something for everyone

Prawn Sandwiches.Disappointingly, there was no nod to Tooting’s immense Curry Mile. Not even a Chicken Balti Pie. However, the addition of a Caribbean Beef Pattie was a fitting last minute addition to the tea hut’s repertoire.

Tea. c. British Pattie

I was also lucky enough to get a quick tour of the  hospitality suite thanks to the boardroom manager, Keith. In here, high-flying execs presumably indulge in a feast of cocaine and fine wines but as they were only setting up, all that was visible was a tray of fairy cakes and some cups of tea. I’m sure the rest was on the way.  The boardroom was pretty nice with lots of pictures of years gone by as well as a puzzling pair of photos with former Prime Ministers Blair and Brown, who on seemingly separate occasions had both been conned into a visit to Imperial Fields.

The Boardroom. Check the carpet!

Tony avoids the tricky questions on Iraq to check in on the REAL Terrors

After this interlude, I rejoined the huddled masses and headed for the bar. Admittedly this was more of a primary school canteen with ale and not a patch on the Champion Hill bar (when it’s open) but the addition of the usual collection of flags and banners helped and frankly any club serving Hogs Back T.E.A on pump is not going to get a bad write-up from anyone at Pigeon Stands HQ.

...and they will know us by the trail of kegs

and the game. Perhaps unsurprisingly in the circumstances, this was a rather one-sided affair with Guyana looking totally out of their depth. It became apparent after just 5 minutes when Billy Dunn was put through for the opener that this wasn’t exactly the team that (on ranking alone) should be giving Gareth Bale and co a good run for their money. Big Fola Onijube made it 2, rounding off some lovely build-up play and Jamie Byatt got the 3rd from the spot just before half-time. Former Hamlet centre-back (now an accomplished full-back) Osa Obanwonyi also had a fine half and seemed like a much more fluid footballer than the one that  left Dulwich a year ago.

The second half saw the pre-season tradition of multiple subs and the flow of the game was all but lost. The highlight was the excellent 4th by wonderfully named Freedon Pigott but a special mention goes to the Tooting sub, Jordan Anderson, who may just be the tallest man on the planet who fumbled the ball home from a corner to make it five. He makes Leatherhead’s (formerly Burgess Hill‘s) man-mountain Danny “Lurch” Gainsford look almost human. When Tooting face Leatherhead this season and these 2  beasts collide, time may very well stand still.

As for Guyana, Golden Showers might be a more fitting nickname than the Golden  Jaguars. I can safely say that not one of this side will get anywhere near an actual international match and most I suspect, couldn’t even get a deal in Step 5. Their goal in the dying seconds will be comfort to some but the fact they almost concede a sixth straight afterwards suggested that a famous comeback was unlikely.

If you're bat-shit crazy for inflatables then call Chrissie's balloon helpline 24/7

Man of the Match.  This was a close call. The gigantic dog who seemed to be following me around was the real star of the show for me, even high-fiving Billy Dunn. That said, my visit to Imperial Fields stood out thanks to boardroom manager Keith, who stopped his work to insist that I come into the boardroom and have a tour. Whilst I could have coped without his anecdotes of previous Tooting glories over the Hamlet, I couldn’t hold it against him, especially as I’d done similar with in the club shop earlier. Thanks Keith!

An honourable mention

"Stand up if you hate Tooting". Silly thing didn't understand the chant. Bloody Dogs.

Dunn gets the paw after a stellar performance

Post-match rub-down. Obviously I came with my guard up for this one and desperately tried to find fault with anything I could. Disappointingly, I’m sad to announce that (prehaps unsurprisingly) Tooting was a solid evening out. OK, they’re Dulwich’s Skelator but ultimately they seem like a well supported, knowledgeable and reasonably pleasant bunch. Their most loyal supporters may not be as witty and urbane as those at the Hamlet and certainly not a debonaire, but their chat wasn’t dinging either and on the field, Tooting and Mitcham play football in the right spirit.  That said, apart from Jamie Byatt and Billy Dunn who I thought was exceptional, there wasn’t too much of a gap in quality between Tooting and the top of Step 4 and I suspect that might be a bit of a problem for them this season. If they do slip up (and the Hamlet miss out on promotion…unlikely, I know), I’ll be looking forward to coming back, albeit in my pink and blues. As Dulwich are still to lose a match at Imperial Fields, I dare say I won’t be the only one eyeing up a return visit.

Walton and Hersham

2 May

30 April 2011

Isthmian South Division

Walton and Hersham 0  v  Dulwich Hamlet 2 (att 236)

Stompond Lane Sports ground, Hersham


Team Talk.  Walton and Hersham were formed from the amalgamation of Walton FC and Hersham FC in 1945. The club’s notable achievements include winning the Corinthian League in three consecutive seasons between 1947 in 1949 and impressively winning the FA Amateur Cup in 1973.

More recent times have seen the team yo-yo between the Isthmian Premier Division and the Isthmian South Division, where they currently play.
Today’s game against Dulwich Hamlet was a chance for one of the clubs to secure the final play-off place in the division (5th). Before kick-off Dulwich were in the driving seat, equal with Walton and Hersham on points but with a superior goal difference. The chances of Burgess Hill (the remaining team who could mathematically secure 5th place) leapfrogging both teams seemed unlikely on recent results, so all eyes were on this fixture.

There was some pre-match chat about the fairness of the play-offs, as it can be argued that a league is played over thirty some games and that promotion should be the reward for the teams that have secured the most points over the course of the season. The play-offs allow seemingly less deserving teams to secure promotion.   This point is highlighted by the fact that the team that would take 5th place today would finish some thirty points behind the 2nd place finisher who would also go into the play-offs. While I can see the arguments here, personally I feel that the play-offs assist in keeping leagues as competitive as possible for as long as possible. This is ultimately a good thing for the league itself and the clubs, particularly in the non leagues where the bigger attendances achieved for more important games make a real difference in financial terms.

Walton and Hersham are currently managed by former Dulwich Hamlet player Chuck Martini (or Chuck Norris as he has been hilariously referred to on Wikipedia). It is also worth noting that paper and pen magnate Theo Paphitis is one of the directors of the club, giving the team a link with the league’s main sponsor Rymans the stationers. It is safe to say that Walton and Hersham will never be short of free biros and ink cartridges.

Home advantage. Walton and Hersham play at Stompond Lane sports ground, which is located in a leafy part of this London suburb that can be best described as well-to-do.

The sports ground itself is separated from the main road by the car park, tennis court and a small turnstile building and club house that have something of the Hi-di-hi -holiday camp about them that I quite like. The turnstile building had a notice board on it advertising the day’s fixture, with the name of the away team printed in much larger type, quite the welcome.

Turnstile building

The main event

The main feature of the playing arena is the running track that separates the pitch from the stands. The track is part of the multi-use sports function that the arena performs, which also includes a hammer throwing net.  Recent news stories about the use of the London Olympic stadium (with its own running track) for football has made it fashionable to see running tracks and football pitches as completely incompatible and a threat to the atmosphere of a football game. With this in mind, I went to Walton and Hersham prepared to dislike this feature. However, I personally felt that it made no real difference to the overall atmosphere although the track makes standing behind the goal a difficult proposition due to the distance between the flat and open standing ends and the action.

The pitch is flanked on one side by a large seated terrace and on the other by a pigeon stand that runs the whole length of the pitch, probably the prime spot to watch the game.

Main stand

Pigeon stand and running track

Inside pigeon stand

Park the bus. Hersham train station is a few stops outside the London zones and is reached by direct and frequent trains from Waterloo, taking 25 to 35 min.

Prawn sandwiches. The clubhouse has fairly standard offerings in terms of ale and clearly has some sort of link with Tottenham Hotspur, evident from the sketch of Teddy Sheringham over the bar and the signed Spurs shirt at the entrance. There is also a burger van.

Club house

Club house bar

Teddy over the bar

A warm welcome... really

…..and the game. As a follower of Dulwich Hamlet I was of course delighted with the result. Truth be told, I’m sure that both teams have turned out better performances. Walton and Hersham  never really looked like troubling the Hamlet, which I think gave the away team the necessary confidence to put on a more attacking display in the second half.

The Hamlet lads come to celebrate with fans

Man of the match. I went to the game with some nerves about the outcome.  Such nerves can be broken only by moments of pure comedy. This comedy was duly delivered early in the game by the spectator who was leaning against a timber fence that gave way, resulting in him falling through it. Fair play, the guy picked himself up and continued watching the game like nothing had happened.

Man who fell through fence

Post game rub down. Waltham and Hersham seemed like a solid local club with a friendly support, happy to mingle in the clubhouse afterwards with the away support despite what must have been a disappointing result and performance for them.