Tag Archives: Epsom and Ewell

Whyteleafe FC

18 Aug

17 August 2013

FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round

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

Church Road, WhyteleafeSign

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

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

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

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

Trust Me. I’m a Swindlehurst.

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

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

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

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

Watch your mouth!

Watch your mouth!

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

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

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

Welcome to the Jungle

Welcome to the Jungle

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

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

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

Me and the Major

Me and the Major

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

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

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

Life-giving beefy goodness

Life-giving meaty goodness

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

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

GOAL!

GOAL!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raynes Park Vale

29 Aug

29 August 2011

Combined Counties Premier League

Raynes Park Vale 3  v  Epsom and Ewell 2  

Grand Drive, Raynes Park

Team Talk.  Bank Holiday. YES! With Dulwich Hamlet not in action until 3pm, I sensed an opportunity to get in a morning kick-off before heading to glorious Champion Hill. Lots of juicy ties on over the bank holiday, none more so than a gritty Step 5 match-up between two stalwarts of the Combined Counties Premier.

Raynes Park Vale (affectionately shortened to both The Vale and/or RPV) are the product of a mid-90s merger by two clubs, Raynes Park F.C. and Malden Vale F.C.

Raynes Park Vale, behind bars and ready to be unleashed

Malden Vale, the more successful of the to sides, have the honour of being the last ever winners of the Surrey Senior League in 1978 before the league vanished in a reorganisation and emerged as the London Spartan League, a league in which they finished 4th twice and 2nd twice, most disappointingly in 1984, when they lost out on the title to Hanwell Town on goal difference. Vale then left for the Combined Counties first incarnation and at the first attempt, won the title. The only league title on either side’s resume.

Malden Vale also have the slightly richer history in terms of former players. Former Irish international Clinton Morrison and current St Johnstone legend in the making, Jody Morris, both started out their careers in Malden Vale.

Raynes Park were formed off the back of the old Southern Railways (Raynes Park) an old works team. Sadly little is known about these sides other than Railway had success in the 1932/33 Middlesex League and were also double winners in 1936, taking home both the Railway Athletic Association Cup and the Southern Railway Orphanage Cup.

Team Photo c. 1937 (c) sarflondondunc

Raynes Park Vale’s opponents were fellow Surrey-ites and promotion hungry, Epsom and Ewell, a team/ground we’ll be blogging in future.

Park the bus. Raynes Park Vale play at Grand Drive, original home of Malden Vale and in no way connected with the late-90s band of the same name (who, with ex-members of Goldrush now perform as Danny and the Champions of the World for those of you interested in that sort of thing). The stadium is a 5 minute walk from Raynes Park Station, a 25 minute ride from Waterloo or 15 from Clapham Junction. The ground is off Grand Drive itself and is located up a track which runs parallel to the stadium. Parking is limited so avoid the “Road Music”if you can (I’ll stop now).

An old street sign marks the way to former club

Home Advantage.Grand Drive is a rather reluctant home to Raynes Park Vale. The departure of Wimbledon to Milton Keynes hurt more than just the Dons, it also hampered Vale’s hope of finding a new ground. The current stadium, together with the rest of the Prince George’s Fields sports pitches was set to be bought out by Wimbledon F.C. for their new youth academy. However, thanks to arch-chuffers, Sam Koppell and Pete Winkleman, the planned facility was eventually built in-between roundabouts somewhere in Buckinghamshire and Vale continue to ply their trade in the corner of Prince George’s Fields. Whilst Vale seem somewhat aggrieved by this, most likely because of the  financial burden of the lease, I have to wonder whether a move away would be of much greater harm. Certainly a new stadium would be a bit more state o’ the art but it wouldn’t have the faded charm of Grand Drive.

Cars, as far as the eye can see. But are they here fore the Vale?

The ground has fallen into a state of slight disrepair, even by Combined Counties standards and I fear would require some pretty serious work to get it up to Step 4 requirements. However, it’s still got a lot of character. The blue and red railings were a particular highlight and was a further sign of the ease at which many clubs can pimp their ground in team colours if they wear something a little less dapper and it’s always a pleasure to see a chalkboard for the team line-ups.

However, the first thing you notice as you notice as you enter through the kiosk is that ridiculous grade of the pitch. There must be a clear 2m from the bottom left corner to the top right. It’s not the north face of the Eiger but you’d still be able to have a mighty competitive cheese-rolling contest and it was evident that it has an influence on play.

A LOT of play was down that side

In terms of structures, there is one covered stand which features nice old-fashioned wooden bleachers as well as stands (of sorts) at both ends. It also featured the obligatory director’s box for the visiting officials. This was about the only corner of the stand I didn’t attempt to sit in but the other four or five vantage points I tried all provided obstructed views of one or both goals, resulting in some serious giraffing and making it the only all-restricted view stand I’ve sat in.

Luckily other options were available. Although, the conventional pigeon stand located behind the goal at the top of the hill was looking rather worse for wear and not something I would chose to shelter under unless absolutely forced to. Judging by the collection of rusty barbeques which seem to be stored there, few others fancy watching the game from there either.

The Pigeon/BBQ Stand

After wandering down to the bottom of the hill, I can see why. Opulence, thy name is Raynes Park Vale. A three-man “executive” enclosure with leather, yes LEATHER armchairs for the delectation of even the most discerning lower league connoisseur. It even seems to come complete with mugs of tea, genuine MUGS. Full of life-giving tea! Amazing.

Why is nobody having a seat??

Watching Vale. LIKE A BOSS!

A noteworthy feature was a tree dedicated to one of the Raynes Park faithful who had died last year. A much nicer tribute than a bench or seat in the stand, especially if they use the pruned branches to build another executive stand.

RIP Tilley

Prawn Sandwiches. Despite taking the form of a Scottish housing scheme boozer, the clubhouse was a nice, yet functional space with pool table, dart board (a rare find in London these days) and telly, although Magic FM was the order of the day. The bar has a number of framed programmes of big Vale games as well as pennants from visiting sides. Oh and a collection of comedy Shag Lager.

As it happens, getting a Shag from the barman was the last thing on my mind. With the early kick-off, breakfast I needed breakfast. Irritatingly, bacon rolls were harder to come by at Grand Drive than they were at the wonderfully Jewish, yet understandably cloven-hoof-free, Wingate and Finchley F.C. (well worth a visit, by the way).

A small corner of the bar was dedicated to tea and hot goods but sadly only frozen burgers were on offer, these were simultaneously defrosted and cooked on a large George Foreman grill. I chose not to partake. A mug of tea was an inviting 50p and impressively came from a teapot. A magnificent touch.

During the 15 minute interval, I had a chat with one of the visiting support  who seemed like a jolly chap and seemed to take an interest in the Pigeon Stands experiment, even asking for a note to the website (if you’re reading this, welcome Dundee Dougie).  Despite my obvious bias to fellow ex-pats, he and his pals seemed like a pleasant bunch and I’m certainly looking forward to a trip to Epsom and Ewell in the near future.

The home support largely took the form of stewards, barmen and tea-ladies so there was scant opportunity for any interaction with them.  Those who weren’t helping out in someway seemed accommodating enough though there was an odd mutter about the early kick-off time.

and the game. Fantastic quality on show today as both sides played out a really good game. Epsom have a good history in the Combined Counties and are a side who many think stand an outside chance of promotion (although most of us still fancy Guildford). They undoubtedly had the physical edge and for the most part seemed well organised. However, they did look prone to the odd howler. They opened the scoring after 10 minutes with a bundled effort after a corner. RaynesPark slowly came back into the match and pulled level after half an hour when Raynes Park keeper, Dean Cupit, cleared his lines with an almighty hoof up the pitch which star of the show, Simon Moore, latched on to. Poor defending at set pieces cost Vale again when a headed goal from another corner. Vale continued to press and Simon Moore was sent clean through for a second and third time without being able to find the net.

In the second half and played some very intricate passing football, sadly, not all of the players hooked up to it but massive credit has to go to Raynes Park gaffer, Lee “Dobo” Dobinson for trying to improve the young talent at his disposal.  Not bad for a man who lists his former clubs as Café Mango’s, Legends and Footlights.

The Raynes Park equaliser came midway through the second half after a comical back-pass was snaffled up by Moore as he netted his second. The winner – and best goal of the game – came with three minutes to play as a long, Delap-esque throw was flicked on for Moore to claim his hat-trick with a spectacular volley across the face of goal in into the corner of the net.

However, the most spectacular moment in the match came some 10 minutes into the second half when out of nowhere, the peaceful Zone 4 suburbs were shattered by an unseen and deafening roar of some sort of vehicle. Too shrill for a car but too deep for a plane. It was grotesque and mysterious, the players were confused, the officials were confused, heck, even us fans were confused. After maybe a 30 second deafening, play resumed with the background music of ear-melting engines. My fears of a Christine-style murder car or worse, Mr T in a tank, were allayed as the fairground in the adjoining field turned out to be a drag-racing show.

Man of the Match.  Tough one this. Usually there’s a clear off-field stand out. Today that wasn’t so much the case. As you can tell, I’ve written quite a bit about the game itself and without a doubt, the star of the show was on the pitch.

However, in good tradition, our award goes to the multiple volunteers who keep Grand Drive ticking over.  There may not be an army of supporters in the stands but there’s a solid troop of jovial helpers who man the turnstiles, fetch the balls from over fences and serve behind the bar. They are supporters in the truest sense of the word and at Grand Drive, like at thousands of grounds across the country, they keep things going.

Worryingly, many of these souls seem to be in their twilight years and at Raynes Park, I worry about what happens in 20 years when these people can no longer continue. For now though, we salute those who give up their weekends, bank holidays and evenings for the enjoyment of others. Nice one!

Post-match rub-down. As I conclude this latest tale from the pigeon stand, I’m left feeling I’ve been a little harsh on Raynes Park Vale. Granted, it wasn’t a day of great whimsy but it was still a grand day out and importantly, it was full of splendid football. Both sides played some good stuff and in particular, Raynes Park, thanks to the intrepid coaching endeavours of Lee Dobinson. If implemented with a bit more pace and finesse Vale could prove very effective both in the Combined Counties and above. Next week’s FA Cup prelim with Faversham will be an excellent encounter and well worth checking out.