Tag Archives: London

Cray Wanderers F.C.

8 Feb

Hayes Lane, Bromley

Rymans Premier League

2 January 2013

Cray Wanderers  0    v   Concord Rangers  2 (att 155 )

Entrance

Team talk. So this is the New Year, and I have no resolutions. Well, Death Cab for Cutie, that’s not strictly true as my resolution this year was to put more blog posts up on time. The date of this post about a Cray game we went to early last month speaks volumes about how this commitment is going. Lack of time can hardly be an excuse, as a conspiracy between the weather Gods and non-league refs has meant few games have been played recently due to snow, soggy pitches, broken floodlights, and dodgy walls. Hardly the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse but enough to keep the punters off the terraces of Kingsmeadow, Champion Hill, Eden Park, Croydon Arena, and the like. This dearth of football leaves me longing for the halcyon days of tannoy takeovers, bank holiday doubles, and random trips to watch the football at the Oval.

Established in the 1860s in the villages of St Mary Cray and St Pauls Cray (the Cray twins), Cray Wanderers F.C. ‘aka the Wands’ can lay claim to being the third oldest football clubs in the world. They recently celebrated their 150th anniversary with a tournament that featured two other golden very oldies, Sheffield F.C. and Hallam F.C. Interestingly Cray are also a rare southern example of a team formed by railway workers (on the London to Kent line) – something that seems to be more common up north.

Cray spent much of the early twentieth century switching between London and Kent based leagues. Notable successes in this period included winning the London league three years on the trot between 1956/7 and 1958/9. Settling in the Kent league in 1977, they remained there until they gained promotion to the Isthmian League in 2004. In 2008/9 the beat Pigeon Stand figures of fun the Met Police to earn a further promotion to the Isthmian Premier where they play today. Mixed fortunes for Cray in the 2012/13 season has left them hovering in the mid table area.

Cray currently ground share at Hayes Lane with Bromley after they were unable to meet league requirements and install floodlights at their previous ground in Oxford Road. More details about the old ground can be found on the excellent Grounds for Concern.   Eagle eyed readers of this blog will know that we have written about Hayes Lane before – a more detailed description of the ground can be found here.

…..and the game. The thing that grabs you when you when entering Hayes Lane for a Cray game is how little signage relating to Cray there is. This is odd given how many signs there are knocking around the ground (see previous post).

Even Masini gets a bloody sign

Even Masini gets a bloody sign

The main area given over to Cray is a large temporary building in the far corner of the ground. This serves as a board room and also has a nice little club shop selling club merchandise and also a good range of old programmes (I picked up a Hamlet v Bromley programme from 1988 for 10p).

Cray shed to left of main stand

Cray shed to left of main stand

Board room entrance

Board room entrance

Sneak peak inside booard room... best not ask what goes on in here

Sneak peak inside board room…god only knows!!

Club shed entrance

Club shed entrance

Inside shop

Inside shop

Non league booty

Non league booty

The game itself was pretty poor actually. Cray looked shoddy at the back and highly susceptible to high balls into the box. Concord were no great shakes and 2-0 probably flattered them a bit. Cray were really poor in front of goal and never really looked like scoring.

7

9Post game rub down. It is hard to recommend a visit to see Cray as the experience is as per Bromley, but with less people and (on this occasion) noticeably poorer football. In some instances ground sharing arrangements seem to work well and make economic sense in these times of economic pressure. However, it is genuinely sad to see a historic club like Cray without a proper home. Hopefully we’ll be visiting them at a new home ground sometime soon.  Luckily, this house covered in Christmas decorations was on hand near the ground to cheer us up…..

There is a house behind here somewhere

There is a house behind here somewhere

1011

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.

Lewisham Borough (Community) FC

5 Oct

Ladywell Arena, Catford, SE6 4QX

22 September 2012

London Senior Cup

Lewisham Borough (Community) FC 2 v Kent Football United FC 0 (attendance 36)

Image

Team talk. Lewisham Borough (Community) Football Club was formed in 2003 through the merger of Moonshot AFC, AFC Lewisham, and the brilliantly named Ten Em Bee. The club play their league football in the Kent Invicta Football League (step 6). But today was all about the cup, the London Senior Cup. A special day for Lewisham too, as this was the first time they had been allowed to compete in the London Senior Cup for 4 years due to ground facilities not ticking all the necessary boxes.

Lewisham Borough was long overdue a visit as the club is geographically the closest to Pigeon Stands HQ in Brockley. This would also be our first trip to a sub step 5 ground, so naturally we were pretty excited.

Today’s opposition is fellow Kent Invicta league Kent Football United, who currently ground share with Pigeon Stands favourites VCD Athletic. Unfortunately Kent FC are not a massively bank rolled non league dream team of the Kent’s best of the best. However, there was evidence of delusions of grandeur in the way they rip off both the Inter Milan kit and badge, perhaps they were setting themselves up for a fall…

Lewisham FC could not be accused of similar flashiness, the club the badge is just the council logo. In some ways this is nice and gives them a real community link. In other ways the badge, along with the bright yellow high vis shirts reminds me a bit of the bin men that wake me up every Friday.

Council badge

Park the bus. Lewisham play at the Ladywell Arena, which is between Catford and Ladywell (zone 3). Frequent trains from Charing Cross and London Bridge (about 15 mins).

Home advantage. The Arena is best approached from the Ladywell side, as Ladywell Fields makes a pleasant plod (the Ladywell Tavern or Ravensbourne Arms are recommend for pre/post match drinks). If you’re approaching from the Catford end then the Catford Bridge Tavern is highly recommended. Also keep a look at for what is left of the old Catford Dog Track, which mysteriously burnt down a few years back. When I say mysteriously, I mean suspiciously.

Ladywell fields approach

The Arena itself serves as a multi purpose community sports facility. The football pitch forms only a small part of the site that is dominated more by track and field. There is hammer throwing net, long jump, and also running track which encircles the football pitch (cue tiresome pub debate about football grounds with running tracks). In addition to these sports, Ladywell Arena wins our award for the most obscure other sport accommodated within a ground… petanque.

Pitch view from north end

Hammer

Petanque

You enter the ground at the south end, which is where the club house is. We were greeted warmly at the gate by Ray Simpson, the Chairman of the club (£3 in, which includes a programme that would put may Isthmian clubs to shame in terms of content). Recognised as newbies Ray was keen to give us the warmest of welcomes, show us around all that Lewisham Borough has to offer and share his plans for football world domination which (like most good plans) started with getting a bar on site.

The clubhouse itself is pretty nice to look at, having been built in a sort of pavilion style. Outside the clubhouse there is a raised terrace area that makes a good option for watching the game (this will also be a great drinking terrace when they get that bar up and running).That said, pitch side seemed to be the place most people headed for, where you can sit on the grass close to the touchline. There is also a directors bench for the big wigs and old boys.

Trackside

Club house

Leave you Javelins at the door gents

Pitchside chillout

Directors box

Alternatively, if you are a tight fisted butt muncher who can’t even shell out £3 to support your local community (whilst no doubt happy have to pay £50 per month to that arse Murdoch and his Sky buds) you can watch the game for nothing from a pedestrian bridge at then end of the ground. Non league dogging really is starting to take off, it must be the economic climate.

Return of the non league doggers

Prawn sandwiches. Half time tea and food can be purchased from a hole in the wall of the clubhouse. We were beaten to the snack bar by the match officials – thankfully they had not eaten the club out of bacon butties by the time we got there.

Linos in tea line

The club bar will be open in about three weeks according to Ray. Just in time for winter.

…..and the game. Anyone expecting football at this level to be the equivalent of watching kids kicking a ball around in the park will be surprised (and should also probably stop reading this blog). This was a well contested game with both teams putting together some good moves in possession. Speaking with the dad of one of the Lewisham defenders we found out that the team had been almost completely put together anew for this season. This was not apparent from watching the game, which is a real credit to them.

Both teams went at it in the first half, and were probably about equal in possession and chances created. Kent had the front two of Elstrom Die and Alex Tiesse  amongst their ranks. We know both these players to be talented footballers who have played at higher levels and the Lewisham defence did really well to keep them both quiet football wise and limit their noise to nothing but bitching and moaning and a bit of prima dona antics when decisions didn’t go their way (a tip guys, stay on bloody side!).

The first goal came for Lewisham on 15 mins, a cracking half volley that was the product of a really nice team move to spread the play into space. Lewisham doubled the tally just before half time to lead two nil at the break.

The second half was a more scrappy affair, which will have suited Lewisham who looked content to protect their lead. It finished 2-0 but perhaps Kent deserved a goal.

Watching the Lewisham team warm down after the game it was clear from the mood that progressing further in a cup they have been out of for so long gave them a massive lift. Hopefully they can carry this forward into the league.

Man of the match. This has to go to our new friend Ray. He won a couple of new fans with his welcome at the door and the way he went busily about everything throughout the game. Hope he at least got to watch a bit of the match and celebrate the win with the team after the game. It’s guys like Ray that make non-league tick.

Post game rub down. Well recommended for the trip – particularly when the sun is out where lounging on the grass bank watching the game is a real winner. The bar will be a bonus too.

Next up. Lewisham Borough’s next home game is 20 October against Ashford United in the League Cup. Other fixtures can be found here

Chessington and Hook United

21 Apr

Chalky Lane, Chessington

9 April 2012

Chessington & Hook United 0   v  Molesey  1 (circa  60)

Team talk. Taking full advantage of the long Easter weekend, and scheduling that saw some Combined Countries games kicking off at 11:30am, we decided to hit up two games in south west London. In the afternoon we would visit Corinthian Casuals (report to follow) leaving us at an early kick off at Chessington and Hook United in the morning. Regular readers of this blog will know that we did a double header last year when we saw VCD Athletic and Dartford. The decision to visit these games saw us miss a massive 6-0 win for our own Dulwich Hamlet. This lead to a pact that we would never again visit other London teams when Dulwich are at home, in case the curse of Edgar Kail struck again. Dulwich were not playing today so we thought we would be able to head south west without adverse consequence.

Chessington & Hook United in its modern guise resulted from the alliance of Chessington United Football Club and Hook Youth/United in 1986. The Club gained senior status and promotion to the Combined Counties in 1997 and have been there ever since. The 2010/11 season saw Chessington finish 6th in the CoCo, a record for them.

This season the team has failed to building on the impressive finish of last, and are currently relegation threatened towards the foot of the league.  Today’s opponents were play-off hopefuls and Pigeon Stands favourites the Molesey Moles.

Park the bus. Chessington’s Chalky Lane arena (no doubt named after Rick Stein’s dead dog) is a 15 minute walk from Chessington South (zone 6) main line station. Trains run every half hour or so from London Waterloo and take just over half an hour.

Home advantage. The visit to Chessington had fun written all over it. The ground is pretty much across the road from Chessington World of Adventures (the southern equivalent of Lightwater Valley), which is signposted from the station. It’s also right next door to the headquarters of SEGA arcades. Even though we chose to visit on a day when the wind was up and it never stopped raining, surely Chessington and Hook would not fail to deliver on the fun factor! Or would it?

A world of adventure or pain?

Chalky Lane is little more than a narrow lane off a major road which leaves you with that weird feeling of being in the middle of suburbia one minute and then in a more rural setting the next. The rural atmosphere was reinforced by the sound of distant trails bikes motoring around throughout the game.

The Club prides itself on the fact that it is maintained on a purely voluntary basis. All the Committee members, trainers, managers, ground staff and adult helpers are unpaid, as are the players (in fact the players pay a fee to play for the team). This is not surprising as the Chalky Lane ground screams makeshift. You approach the pitch via a narrow walkway bounded by high timber fences. There is no turnstile so we paid a fella sat next to a white plastic box (£7 in, no program – seemed a bit steep to us).

Welcome one and all

Once in, all the usual stuff (club house, toilets, burger bar) is located at the south end. There is also a large pigeon stand at this end that looks to have been formed from bits of scaff and sheeting – a real A-Team job (BA would be proud). We spent most of our time at this end as (a) it was chucking it down and everywhere else looked grim and (b) we found ourselves next to a guy who looked just like Swiss Tony of Fast Show fame, which was far more entertaining than the match.

Pitty the fool

Swiss Tony

The rest of the ground is basically a pitch with a fence running around it and a small covered seating area on the east side. The ground is open on the north side, which led to us getting even more battered by wind and rain. Easily the best thing about the ground is the UPVc conservatory dugouts (with home and way painted on the inside). Unfortunately they were not kitted out with wicker furniture.

East stand inside

UPVc dugouts

Fat lino anyone?

Prawn sandwiches. The inside of the club house is the usual 70s social club vernacular – which I always find strangely cosy. There is a dart board for a few half time games of the arrows.  Didn’t have the beer as it was a morning kick off, but it looked to be standard fare.

Burger hole

There is a burger bar outside that also sells a selection of icepops.  The guy behind the counter told me with surprise that the icepops always went down well and that he had even sold a couple during the first half – it was NOT a day for icepops!

…..and the game. Considering the poor weather and the bobbly looking Chessington pitch we knew this would not be a classic. Chessington were an unknown quantity to us, but we knew that Moseley were a team who like to pass it about. These conditions would not suit them.

So the first half was a scrappy affair during which Moseley went one up. We have no idea who scored as there was no programme available to buy at the ground. Chessington always looked second best but had their moments. Fair play to the Moles though, who against all odds managed to play some nice stuff in the second half. They deserved their second goal, which was a wonder chip over the keeper from 25 yards by Lewis Ackerman. He definitely meant to do it, but looked as shocked as everyone else that it went in. No Premier league showboating here, no sir.

A mole sitting on a pole

Man of the match. It would be cruel to give this to the train driver who took us away from Chessington. But this really was one of those days where you wish you’d just stayed at home. I guess Swiss Tony is in with a shout purely for keeping our spirits up.

Post game rub down. Not a favourite visit. The conditions certainly didn’t help – but I personally found little to recommend a trip to Chessington and Hook. Comparisons with the set up at Moseley are completely unfair as the clubs have come from different places leaguewise. Let’s just say that I am not Chessington and Hooks biggest fan…. but this is!!

Massive fan

Blackheath Rugby Club

25 Sep

24 September 2011

National Division 1

Blackheath 27 v Wharfedale 24

The Rectory Field, Blackheath

Team Talk. Showing that the Pigeon Stands will not discriminate based on ball or goal shape we decided to check out some south London rugby. This ties in nicely with the Rugby Union World Cup that is currently being played in New Zealand. While perhaps not a popular view, I need events like the Rugby World Cup running alongside a football season that sometimes feels too lengthy.

Many will be aware of the close history that football and rugby share. Until the formal laying down of nationally accepted rules in the latter half of the 1800’s the two games were distinguished only by public school house rules on preferences for kicking or carrying the ball. Carrying famously (and clearly falsely) came about when William Webb-Ellis picked the ball up and ran with it in 1823 during a game at Rugby school. If Ellis had been at my school he would have got a right kicking for such an act, and rightly so.

Like most northern gents I prefer my rugby of the league variety and preferably played by the mighty Bradford Bulls. However I was willing to make an exception for Blackheath, a club worthy of a blog piece if only for it’s history.

Founded in 1858, Blackheath is the oldest open rugby club in the world. “Open” in this context meaning that membership was open to anyone and not only attendees or old boys from a particular school, university or hospital. It is also the third-oldest rugby club in continuous existence in the world, after Dublin University Football Club and Edinburgh Academical Football Club.

Blackheath, along with Civil Service FC, is also one of the two clubs that can claim to be a founder member of both the Football Association and the Rugby Football Union. In 1863 Blackheath took part in the meetings at the Freemasons’ Tavern in London to agree the laws of a game that would come to be recognised as football. Blackheath pulled out of joining the Football Association at the last minute as they could not accept a proposal to remove hacking from the game. Francis Maule Campbell, the 19 year old club treasurer and player, argued at one of the meetings that to remove hacking  would “do away with all the courage and pluck from the game…[and] bring over a lot of Frenchmen who would beat you with a weeks practice.”  In saying this, Maule Campbell perhaps foresaw the emergence of the modern Arsenal team and decided that it was not for him. Blackheath instead formed part of a breakaway group that formed the Rugby Football Union (RFU) in 1871.

New balls please

The club and it’s supporters are clearly very proud of their history.  This is in evidence when supporters shout for “club” during games rather than Blackheath, which dates back to the club’s beginnings. Maule Campbell’s important role in the club’s history was recently celebrated by the unveiling of a sculpture of the player in the main bar. This sculpture was produced by current Blackheath prop Desmond Brett.

Blackheath currently play in the National League 1 (two divisions below the Premiership).  Before today’s game with Wharfedale the club lay in 12th place having won 1 and lost 3 of their opening 4 games. Wharfedale, who are the main sports team in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, had the same record but were two places below Blackheath due to goal/try difference.

Park the bus. Blackheath’s ground at the Rectory Field is a short walk from Westcombe Park rail station (zone 3). Regular trains run from Cannon St (stopping at London Bridge) and takes about 17mins.

Home Advantage. Blackheath have played at the Rectory Field since 1883, having previously played matches on the heath itself, using the nearby Princess of Wales public house for changing and perhaps the odd refreshment.

Welcome mat

The Rectory Field ground is also the home of Blackheath Cricket Club. The main clubhouse at the west end of the pitch is very much in the cricket pavilion style and houses one of Blackheath’s three (yes three!) bars. There is even a fantastic balcony out front to watch the game from. The other two bars (the Barbarian bar and the outside bar) are also at the west end. There is no cover at the opposite end (and no bar) which probably explains why the majority of the support stay at the west end throughout the game.

West end

Club house - west end

Club house - west end

View of east end

On the south side of the pitch there are two raised concrete standing areas that are either side of the covered Peter Piper stand. This stand offers the main pitch side seating area for the ground and is also unquestionably where the peck of pickled peppers picked is kept. The side opposite the Peter Piper stand offers uncovered standing on the grass and temporary raised timber platforms.

South side

South side

Peter Piper stand - south side

North side standing

Today was family fun day. This could only mean one thing. Yes, a bouncy castle for the kids.

Prawn Sandwiches. Did I mention that Blackheath has three bars? The clubhouse bar is well stocked with ale at £2.80 a pint. This must have put the visiting Yorkshire wallets at ease. The clubhouse bar also serves as a trophy room and display space for various historic bits and bobs. The outside bar is much smaller, but perfectly located for nipping away to grab a drink mid game. The third bar is there just in case you cannot get a drink at one of the other two bars. Blackheath really know how to cater to the casual and heavy drinker alike. Beer can be drunk anywhere and the staff will even serve it in 4 pint pitchers. Many football clubs could learn a few lessons from this.

Club house bar

Club house bar

Club house bar trophy room

West end outside bar

Outside bar seating

Oh, and there is of course a burger hut for soaking up all the booze.

West end burger bar

and the game. Not one for the casual spectator this. The game was a very tight affair that was always going to be won by the team that made the least errors (of which there were plenty). The 20-7 half time lead massively flattered the home team and I was advised by Blackheath’s support that the team have thrown away bigger leads in recent time. And sure enough, Blackheath’s margin was slowly chipped away at by Wharfedale in the second half which led to the far tighter 27-24 final score that nevertheless gave Blackheath the win.

Pitcher invasion

Man of the Match. Seeing Wharfedale’s travelling support, many having braved the four hour drive down the A1 from the Yorkshire Dales, made me think about the support from my own Dulwich Hamlet that had hired a mini bus to travel to the Whitehawk estate in Brighton. Such devotion deserves recognition. So there you go.

Post-match rub-down. A fine club with a dedicated support. Well worth a visit if not only for the hospitality.

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?