In my misspent youth I was a frequent visitor to the Medway towns. Being just a few stops down the line on the train meant there was ample opportunity to hop on and off the train to avoid the conductor in the “toast rack” trains that used to be common in the 1980’s. For some it was easier to everything in Chatham and Gillingham. Easier to buy beer from the off licence, easier to buy 10-packs of Marlboro’s and easier to get lovebites off the girls. Perhaps coming from Longfield was deemed “exotic” to the local girls but whatever it was, a swig of Diamond White and a quick drag on a cigarette and they were putty in our hands.
“One of many suggested ‘origins’ for the word ‘Chav’ was that it is an abbreviation of ‘Chatham Average’, alluding to a public perception of a segment of Chatham residents as tracksuit-wearing, gold hoop-earringed common people with a penchant for hard drinking, recreational drug use, and aggressive and anti-social behaviour. The word ‘chav’ was retroactively deemed an acronym for ‘Council House And Violent’. “Chav Culture” was first evident from a website about “Chatham Girls” which received a huge amount of media interest.” Not my words but those of Wikipedia. It certainly rang true.
At the time I had no knowledge Chatham had a football team. Everyone came here to watch Gillingham right? In fact in 1986 I came to every home game bar one as powered by the goals of Tony Cascarino and Dave Shearer they reached the Play Off final (beating Sunderland in the process) where they lost in a replay to Swindon Town. But they did. Chatham Town were formed just a few months after their illustrious neighbours but have not enjoyed anywhere near the success of the Gills.
Their best league performance has been 7th in the Southern League, Eastern Division and even last season as Gillingham were enjoying a charge to a play off spot, Chatham were rooted firmly at the bottom of the Ryman League South. However, the club were reprieved at the end of last season by the usual end of season re-organisation and now find themselves in the Ryman League North.
Chatham has a number of other interesting links to football. Local MP, Tracey Crouch (no relation to Peter) is a qualified FA Coach, as well as a Spurs fan which shows how much she really knows about the beautiful game (joke Tracey), and of course the town once joined as one to celebrate winning the FA Cup. Well, sort of.
Back in 1875, Royal Engineers brought the cup back to their Great Lines ground after beating Old Etonians in a replay at Kennington Oval. The team were seen as the best the armed forces could muster and as well as their Cup win, they were runners up on four other occasions in the first ten years of the competition. Today nothing much is left of their original grounds in Great Lines, well apart from a military housing estate.
But back to the football at hand. Chatham had proudly announced their new Adidas kit online this week, AC Milan (and Lewes) style at home, Inter Milan away. Times are a-changing in the Non Leagues and if you cannot play the part, at least you can look the part these days. What was also welcome was a very sensible £5 for Adults and £1 for kids to get in. With Gillingham opening their League Two campaign just a stone’s throw away it was always going to be a bit of a losing battle on the crowd front, and when we entered the hallowed portal a few minutes before kick off the grounds was, shall we say, spartan.
Chatham Town 0 Welling United 2 – Maidstone Road – Saturday 5th August 2011
Of course. Everyone was in the bar! After a week of Championship, Premier League and various Welsh grounds it was good to be back at the heart of the grassroots game. As the teams took their place in the strange fencing-cum-tunnel structure behind the goal all of the fans drifted out to take their place around the rustic venue.
This was more of a test for the home side rather than the visitors. Welling had exceeded all expectations last season , finishing just outside the play off spots after a great second half of the season. Player/manager Jamie Day is still getting rave reviews and you cannot rule them out of the race for promotion this season as well. So it was no surprise that they took an early lead when Jack Parkinson scored after being put clean through.
The one man at the centre of the action was actually the referee, Mr Brown who failed to control the game and punished the wrong tackles at the wrong times. However, it was interesting to hear the “respect” he got from both sets of players. So much for the success of that campaign.
The second half was more of the same with the Welling United keeper Whitehouse not really having a save to make, whilst his opposite number Kessell had to be at his best to keep the score just at one. That was until centre forward Loick Pires broke free from his marker and drilled the ball home.
One notable player who made an appearance in the second period for Chatham was Jack Jeffrey. Born down the road in Gravesend, Jeffrey was on West Ham’s books for awhile, although never made the first team squad. He then went on to play for Leyton Orient and Cambridge United on loan, but since then his career as nosedived, last season ending up in the Kent Premier League with Sevenoaks Town. Let’s home he does find some luck with Chatham.
With Welling opening their Blue Square Bet South campaign next weekend it was a useful run out, but for Chatham Town it is hard to know where this season will take them. Last season Ryman South was considerably stronger than the North so there is hope that after a season of turmoil it could at last be a season of promise. And as for the Chav’s? Well the term may have come from Chatham, but every town up and down our fair land has their own version so perhaps they should thank Chatham’s youth for Vauxhall Novas, fake Burberry and Elizabeth Duke every day.
For more pictures from the afternoon, head off here.