Tag Archives: non league day

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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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?