Tag Archives: FA Cup

Whyteleafe FC

18 Aug

17 August 2013

FA Cup Extra Preliminary Round

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

Church Road, WhyteleafeSign

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

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

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

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

Trust Me. I’m a Swindlehurst.

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

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

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

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

Watch your mouth!

Watch your mouth!

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

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

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

Welcome to the Jungle

Welcome to the Jungle

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

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

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

Me and the Major

Me and the Major

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

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

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

Life-giving beefy goodness

Life-giving meaty goodness

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

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

GOAL!

GOAL!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Kennington Oval

15 Nov

7 November 2012

The Oval, Kennington, SE11

Wanderers 1 v The Royal Engineers 7

1872 FA Cup replay

Team talk. Here at the Pigeon Stands we normally shy away from nostalgia. Especially nostalgia associated with football, where the images of cloth caps and rattles of yore bears little resemblance to the modern Premier League game and the yearly race through the gutter in which it’s clubs partake. However a chance to watch a replay of the first FA Cup final between Wanderers and the Royal Engineers at the Oval, arguably south London’s finest sporting venue after Champion Hill, was too good an opportunity to turn down. The fact that the game was being played in the run up to Remembrance Day in aid of various local and military charities further sweetened the deal.

Of course the Oval is more famous today as a cricket ground and home to Surrey Country Cricket Club, but in 1872 it was the first venue to host the FA Cup. The winners that day were Wanderers, by a single goal to nil, scored in the fifteenth minute by Wanderers striker Morton Peto Betts (playing under the pseudonym ‘A.H. Chequer’ as he had originally registered to play for a different team and may have technically been cup tied for the match). Another Victorian sporting legend on the pitch that day was club captain C.W Alcock, who had devised the rules for the competition a few months previously. Nothing at all suspicious about that, nor the rule he included that 30 minutes of extra time would be played in the event of the scores being level after 90 but only at the captains’ discretion. Some of these players like Alcock were real renaissance men, often representing their countries in multiple sports including football, cricket, and also beach volleyball. Here are some other sports they excelled at.

Morton Beets or cheeky get?

Wanderer’s were originally formed in 1859 comprising many players who were former pupils of the leading English public schools of the day, including Harrow, Eton, and Hogwarts. The club folded sometime between 1884 and 87 due to the rising interest in the professional game and the dominance of teams from northern England and Scotland. Wanderers reformed in 2009 to play exhibition games in aid of UNICEF.

The Royal Engineers were founded in 1863 to represent the Corps of the Royal Engineers (aka the Sappers) and have survived to this day affiliated to the Army Football Association. Engineers were favourites to win the 1872 final and were famed for their badass charging style. In the game itself Engineers player Lieutenant Creswell was famously injured after ten minutes, breaking his collarbone. He was forced to play the full game due to a rule that no substitutions were permitted (another Alcock rule addition?).

Royal Engineers circa 1871 – Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work we go.

Park the bus. The Oval is located in Kennington and has a stop on the Northern Line (Zone 2). It is also walkable within half an hour from the Victoria area.

Home advantage. Few sporting venues have as much character as the Oval. The name remains unsullied despite the best efforts of advertisers over the years that have seen it called the AMP Oval, the Brit Insurance Oval and presently the KIA Oval. But it was the Fosters Oval that I found most offensive as a cricket fan – how could they?

Riding the bus through south London i’m always amazed at how the ground just seems to appear from behind the tight Victorian street layout. It’s distinctive shape makes it look like it has just literally landed there. God only knows what the local Kennington hags thought when it ceased being a market garden in the mid 1840’s and a bunch of toffs started playing cricket there (perhaps, ‘get off my turnips’). Interestingly the original grass turfs used for the cricket pitch came from Tooting Common. This was a perfect choice for a game that involves smacking a ball out of the ground avoiding all the other players – and entirely in keeping with Dulwich Hamlet rivals Tooting and Micham FC’s current playing style.

Hobbs gate entrance

Turnstyles

Although the ground has been altered an extended since the olden days, approaching the main gates of the Oval is still an experience. The redbrick perimeter walls and iron gates suggest you could be entering old prison rather than a sporting venue. We entered through Hobbs Gate (£10 entrance) on the south side of the ground. This is a good place to take in the back of the Pavilion, the oldest part of the ground, before entering the stadium proper. Sitting in the Pavilion for big cricket matches is generally reserved for members only. However, as today was special all manner of football bloggers, ground hoppers, and other spectators were given free reign of the Pavilion’s historic hallways. And what a lot of hallways there are. Through the members entrance on the basement floor the steps and hallways of the Pavilion start to resemble a M.C Escher sketch, only with wood panelling… lots of wood panelling.

Over the members entrance to the Pavilion

Pavilion stairs

Just inside the members entrance

On the ground floor is the long room, which is famous for its length. This was the main fan meeting place before the game and also where the second FA Cup (that would be presented to the winner for photos only) was on show before the game. This cup was used between 1896 and 1910 after the first one was nicked from a Birmingham shoe shop window. The second FA Cup is the prize possession of Ann Summers and Knickerbox owner David ‘Pantyman’ Gold. Gold is also former chairman of Birmingham City and almost certainly had nothing to do with the theft of the first FA cup as the Birmingham connection is another unfortunate coincidence. ‘All Gold’, a book telling the tale of David’s success, no doubt with his trademark modesty, can be purchased from all good tax paying bookshops (and also Amazon). The book is nearly 500 pages long, 27 chapters with titles like ‘abject poverty’, ‘jews, jews, and more jews’ ,’loser takes it all, and (perhaps grimest of all) a whole chapter devoted to David Sullivan.

The long room

A drinking problem, two cups but only one mouth.

Long room

Exploring the warren that is the Pavillion was a real highlight. This included going right up to the fifth floor terrace which was a great place to view the rest of the ground, and was where we watched the second half. From here you get a really good sense of the scale of some of the newer stands, including the OCS that is opposite the Pavilion and the Bedner and Laker stands that flank either side.

The OCS stand

Bedner stand

Pavilion seating with Laker stand beyond

The Pavilion (on a different day with a different sport)

Prawn sandwiches. If there is one thing the Pavilion has it’s bars. At least one on every floor by my count. Truth be told the beer selection on sale for the game was not up to much at all – in fact it tasted like vinegar.

Food options were better and included a full Toby style carvery in the bar on the fourth floor.

Grub’s up

…..and the game. The teams were welcomed and treated to a rousing brass band rendition of the National Anthem. This mood was lowered when the band launched into ‘abide with me’ – a tune famously written somewhat aptly while the author was dying of tuberculosis.

Pleasantries out of the way and the game started much as we’d expected with the vastly more experienced Royal Engineers dominating. Of course the result wasn’t really that important, it was more about the occasion. Which is a good job as the Engineers took it to the Wanderers in the first half with a level of savagery not seen since water boarding – finishing the first half 5-0 up.

Brass band

Luckily celebrity guest manager and part time Umpa Lumpa impersonator Bobby Gould was on hand. I have no idea what Bob said to those Wanderer’s lads at half time (it undoubtedly involved the word ‘muppets’) but the second half was far more competitive. We were never going to see a massive comeback but at least Wanderers scored a goal courtesy of the fantastically named Danny Flash, son of Harry. The game finished 7-1 to the Royal Engineers.

Bob’s got a plan

Man of the match. The presentation of the second FA Cup to the winning team at the end of the game was actually a bit of a let down from a spectators perspective. This was done with the players backs to the crowd at all times and felt like more of a photo opportunity for the journalists (making me feel a bit like glorified room meat). The fact that any player wanting to hold the cup had to wear white gloves (that were presumably silk from Ann Summers) further added to the sterility of the moment.

Aaaaands off the Gold.

For me there was one guy who really captured the random magic of the event and that was Wanderers substitute goalkeeper Sano. Sano spent most of the game on the bench and was clearly only brought on for the last five minutes so he could get a medal, although he did manage to keep a clean sheet which is more than can be said of the other guy. Sano was clearly delighted to have been part of the occasion and even brought along a massive posse of friends and family to celebrate with at the end like he’d won the real FA Cup. Immense.

Sano celebrates his clean sheet

Post game rub down. What can you say. Access all areas to the Pavilion and novelty football for £10 in aid of good causes. It’s a no brainer really. A great night, well recommended.

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.