Tag Archives: Non league

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

Bromley FC

11 Mar

Hayes Lane, Bromley

Blue Square South

6 March 2012

Bromley 1 v Staines Town 1 (att 233)

Team talk. Bromley FC was founded in 1892 and has the honour of being one of the earlier entrants to the Isthmian League by playing in only its fourth season (1908/09) . Bromley won the league in that year and again in 1909/10, 1953/54, and 1960/61. Bromley’s wilderness years (or a season to be more precise) is the subject of Dave Roberts’ book “The Bromley Boys”. The book is basically the authors account of the 1969/70 Isthmian League season where Bromley finished bottom of the league having been beaten 31 times and conceded 111 goals. The book has the subtitle of “the true story of supporting the worst football team in Britain”, which is why I imagine it is nowhere to be seen in the Bromley club shop. Bromley Boys is a recommended read as, whilst set in the 1960’s, some of the experiences will definitely strike a chord with any football fan who has trailed stupid distances to stand in the cold with 20-30 other people and watch their team get pumped. Non readers can fear not, a film of the book is rumoured and Bradley Pitts has already signed up to play Dave Roberts.

As noted in Bromley Boys, the team’s record attendance (which still stands) at Hayes Lane is of note. This is a game in 1949 when 10’000 people crowded in to watch Bromley play a Nigeria select eleven. Nigeria beat Bromley 3-1 with many of the visitors players choosing to play the game with bare feet. The post of the Nigeria tour from the ever fascinating Hamlet Historian (AKA Jack Mcinroy) is well worth a read for more details on this.

Recent years saw Bromley promoted from the Isthmian Premier to the Conference South as play off winners in 2006/07. Since promotion they have consolidated their position in the Conference South. The 2011/12 season has not been a good one so far for Bromley. At the start of play today they were looming close to the relegation zone. Their opponents, Staines Town, were in a similar position. This meant that the game had the air of the mathematically improbable 6 pointer about it.

Park the bus. Bromley’s stadium on Hayes Lane is approx 15 minutes walk from Bromley South Station – easily accessible from town by trains that take about 15 minutes from London Victoria.

Home advantage. The stadium is approached up a narrow road off the main Hayes Lane. Walking past the stables close to the ground gives it an almost rural setting that may I imagine has not changed much since Dave Roberts’ days.

Through the main turnstile (£12 in for an adult) you are confronted with a small shed/stable that slightly resembles a Punch and Judy booth where the programmes are sold (£2.50).

That's the way to do it.

One of the most likeable things about Hayes Lane is the variety of standing/seating positions to watch the game, each offering a slightly different perspective.

Those wanting elevation and maximum exposure to the elements should head to the east side. Standing at the top of the concrete steps that run the length of this side, with no cover or solid fence dividing the ground from the open fields beyond gives you a great view of the game but leaves you massively open to the gales that blow across the ground. Warning – this is one of the coldest parts of Hayes Lane, and that’s really saying something as Bromley is one of the coldest grounds I have been to.

East side

For those wanting cover, a closer view of the game, and perhaps a bit of nostalgia – head for the south end. Here you’ll find covered seating across the end of the pitch that is close to the action. You also get to sit on some really characterful (if not at all comfortable) timber benches. The opposite end is similar but with concrete steps to stand on rather than the benches.

South end

North end

If you want closeness, elevation, and access to the bars then head for the main stand on the west side. The atmosphere here is nowhere near as good as the ends (where the more vocal support tends to hang out) but you do get to hob knob with the officials who have an enclosure here (or fenced off bit to be more precise).

West stand

Hob nobbing

A top tip when visiting Bromley, particularly if the game is not so exciting, is to play the thrilling Pigeon Stands game “Spot that Sign”. The aim here is to see how many different types of safety signs you can spot dotted around the pitch. We assume from all the signs that either the people of Bromley are the most litigious in all of London or that Hayes Lane is really dangerous (maybe get some insurance before visiting). A select few are below but there are many many more to be seen.

The toilet drop

Secret Bromley ploy to slow down the opposition?

For any fans planning to scale the floodlights

This is not an exit (secret Seafood reference.. YES!)

Prawn sandwiches. Hospitality is one of the things that Bromley does very well. Bromley punches well above its weight in non league football by having two bars. There are not many places you can turn up to, as we did, to be told apologetically at the gate that there would only be one bar open that evening.

The main bar (that was open) is in the main stand and is fantastic. Very similar to the one at Dulwich Hamlet in many ways, in that it is at the upper level of the main stand and has big windows where (on cold nights like this one) you can watch the game in the warmth. A key feature of the operation of the bar itself is the organised queuing system that they have in place for getting your half time ale – far more civilised than the useful free for all and very similar to the level of bar organisation seen recently in Germany at SSV Jahn Regensburg. Ales on offer are also of great quality and include beers from the Shepherd Neame brewery.

An orderly bar

Outside there is a burger van (of course) where a bacon, egg, and cheese burger with chips can be yours for £6:50. The club shop is also well worth a visit if your looking to get kitted out or grab a mug.

Muggins

…..and the game. Turning up at the game we were surprised to see no players warming up on the pitch. We soon found out that this was because kick off was going to be delayed as the Staines players were stuck in traffic on the M25 – we were told was that kick off would be at 8:15 instead of 7:45. Once the Staines players had turned up we then heard reports that there would be further delays. The chat in the club shop (always a good place for semi correct gossip) was that Staines had turned up without kits and that the kit man was still stuck on the orbital. We heard that offers for Staines to play in Bromley’s away kit were turned down in favour of leaving everyone to wait in the cold until the their kits turned up. I’d have made the dicks play in their skins. Perhaps they’d have beaten the traffic with a better map…….

The game finally got underway at 8:45. It’s not hard to see why both teams are struggling a bit this year. Of the two, Bromley looked slightly better, fairly strong upfront and ok at the back (although Staines didn’t really challenge much) but no midfield presence to speak of. The Bromley goal came first and was the result of an awful keeper, defender rebound/mix up. Bromley continued to be the better side for the first half and most of the second – although oddly opted to remove any counter attacking threat mid second half by putting on a big fella who was not as effective at chasing the ball. We missed the Staines goal as it came late in the game and we had trains to catch, but I understand it came from a set piece (the only way Staines were ever going to score in my view). Match highlights can be found here

Man of the match. I was really impressed with the number of local kids who had missed watching Arsenal v Milan to turn out to watch Bromley. Seeing them hounding the Bromley keeper for autographs at the beginning of the game reminded me of a scene from Bromley Boys. Of course this may have been part of a ploy to falsify the signature, knick the keepers credit card, and buy trainers from JJB Sports – but I think not. The kids were also very vocal in cheering on their team and responded hillariously to a Staines player falling over by yelling “get up, are you a man or a jelly”. Bromley is in good hands with these lot.

Da Bromley Boys

Post game rub down. One of my favourite South London grounds. The football isn’t always great but the ground, atmosphere, and facilities make up for it.

Fisher FC

7 Jan

Champion Hill, Dulwich

Kent League (Step 5)

2 January 2012

Fisher FC 0 v Beckenham Town 4 (att 142 )

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pink and who?

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

Cray Valley (Paper Mills)

2 Jan

Badgers Sports Ground, Eltham, SE9

Kent League (Step 5)

26 December 2011

Cray Valley (Paper Mills) 1 v Fisher FC 2 (att circa 100)

Team talk. Boxing day is a big occasion in the footballing calendar. It is also a day when non-league football really comes into its own as you are almost guaranteed that your local team with be playing a derby game. This is great as (1) you don’t have to travel too far to watch a game, (2) the fact that the games are local derbies can often give them a spice to rival the old spice you got your dad for Christmas, and (3) as non-league football is generally kinder on the wallet than league you can take all the family to the game (whether they want to go or not). Non-league football advert over, we decided to celebrate this Boxing Day by venturing less than 4 miles from Pigeon Stand base camp to watch the deceptively named Cray Valley (Paper Mills) play Fisher.

Cray Valley (Papers Mills) is deceptive as the club is not located in the Cray Valley and also has no current relationship with a paper mill. The club’s history can be traced back to the early twenties. Whilst records are sketchy it is thought that the club has played in or around what was the Southern Alliance League for much of its existence, playing at the Paper Mills ground at St. Paul’s Cray, Orpington. The manufacturing of paper was a major industry for areas close the River Cray in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Geography suggests that this team now playing in Eltham is likely to be named after Nash’s Mill at St Pauls Cray, which was torn down in 1986.

The club decided to call it a day in 1976, before reforming in 1981. The club’s website says that they have had a somewhat nomadic existence since reforming, playing at a number of venues before settling at their current home in Eltham, SE9.

Since 1981 the club have played in the South London Alliance League, the London Spartan League, and the London Intermediate League, before joining the Kent County League (step 6) in 2001/2. Cray Valley’s most successful season was in 2004/5 when they won the league by 11 points, and also won the Kent Intermediate Challenge Shield and the Inter Regional Challenge Cup. As part of a re-gig of step 6 in Kent for the 2011/12 season Cray Valley were asked to fill a space in the Kent League (step 5).

The 2011/12 did not start particularly well for Cray Valley with the team losing the opening 3 games. Things have picked up of late and the team were unbeaten in four games going into today’s game, this included a massive 4-2 over Erith and Belvedere. This left the team in 12th at the start of play. Opponent’s Fisher were two places above them.

Cray Valley manager Steve Chapman reports in his blog that 3 points against Fisher today was the only thing on his Christmas List. Here’s hoping that Santa would not be in for a kicking.

Park the bus. Cray Valley play at the wonderfully named Badger ground – named in honour of the YouTube hit “the Honey Badger” (not true).

The ground is about 10 minutes walk from Mottingham rail (zone 4) and can accessed from central London by trains from Canon Street and Charing Cross that leave every 20 minutes or so.

Home advantage. It must be said, Cray Valley really know how to welcome their visitors. On approach to the ground we were greeted with a scrolling electronic sign at the main gate welcoming visiting fans. As if this wasn’t enough we were treated to the Bee Gee’s hit “More Than A Woman” over a loud speaker while queuing at the turnstile which is located in the large car park next to the ground.

Just as we were starting to feel special, the VIP treatment ended when we got pitch side. The Badger ground does not have a stand or other covered area, in fact the ground does not even have flood lights (Saturday games at the Badger kick off at 2pm for this reason). It is understood that the flood lights and stands needed to make the ground fit for the Kent league and beyond will be coming in the Spring. The ground is completely open on the south side and fenced on others. A concrete path leads you around the pitch. The clubhouse and changing rooms are located in two buildings in the north east corner of the ground.

Prawn sandwiches. We were starting to think that Cray Valley had invested all spare cash in a flashy electronic sign (I’m imagining a sign sales man and a scene not unlike the one from the Simpsons Monorail episode).

Luckily the bar is newly refurbished and makes a pleasant venue for a half time drink. There is even a beer garden out front that must be very pleasant in the summer – one to avoid on Boxing Day though.

Bar

The second half of the game was memorable more for incidents off the pitch rather than on. The unlikely source of the controversy was the tea hut (which is attached to the main club house). A number of fans wanting tea in the second half were turned away as the tea hut ran out of cups – this followed a ten minute episode where staff went off to try to find cups and instead managed to set fire alarms off (luckily the players did not have to evacuate the pitch because of this). This incident led to a fair amount of discontent in the second half – never stand in the way of Brits and their tea.

Disgruntled tea drinkers

…..and the game. A fairly dull game really. Cray Valley probably started the brightest and were good for their goal on half an hour. Fisher perhaps looked the more inventive side, playing some neat football, and deserved to equalise towards the end of the first half (although their goal came from a Cray defensive error).

Both teams were persistent in looking for the winner in the second half, and I personally though it was heading towards a draw. However, in the 91st minute it was Fisher who scored and took the three points.

Man of the match. For a lunchtime kick off on Boxing Day I was impressed with the number of Fisher fans who turned up. It was nice to see a strong visiting support at a step 5 game and their fans lightened a dull affair with some fun singing including the very seasonal “Jingle bells, jingle bells jingle all the way, oh what fun it is to sing when Fisher win away”.

Fisher ultras

Post game rub down. Don’t let the fun name (and sign) fool you, there are probably better non league football trips in this part of London. And visitors should pack a flask just in case the tea’s off.