It’s been two weeks since the Lewes season finished with the home draw against East Thurrock United and already I, like many of my fellow Rooks fans, have Non-League withdrawal symptoms. Fortunately, some leagues don’t end before snow has finished falling in London, even understanding that football + good weather often = big crowds. After last week’s Northern roadtrip today’s adventure was a little closer to home with the final game in the history of the Kent Invicta League takng place on the Isle of Sheppey as Glebe were facing Sutton Athletic in the League Cup final.
I often rode my bike around the lanes of Sutton-at-Hone as a kid. I never knew it had a football team until a few years ago whilst Glebe are now based just a couple of miles away from TBIR Towers – in fact they play next to the Littlest Fuller’s school. They are an ambitious club who currently run over a dozen teams and want to build links with the local community. They finished 3rd this season in the Kent Invicta League and will hope to go one (or two) better next season.
The Kent Invicta League was introduced back in 2011 as Step 6 in the Non-League pyramid but sat uncomfortably between the old Kent League and the new Kent League, which had now become the Southern Counties Eastern League so it could include teams from South London (dare I say it, Surrey). As of next season the league would officially become the SCEFL Division 2. Champions Bearsted and Runners-up Sheppey United would be taking their place just one step below the Ryman League South.
With little or no other football action in the area, and decent support from both teams it was encouraging to see a crowd of over 300 turn out on an initially sunny afternoon at the impressive Holm Park, home of Sheppey United.
The Isle of Sheppey boasts a population of over 40,000 and with the nearest club at the same or higher level being over 15 miles away they have a captive audience. The club have built some impressive facilities for the local community and are now starting to reap the benefits as they climb the leagues. Holm Park certainly wouldn’t look out of place at the Ryman League Premier Division level.
Glebe 2 Sutton Athletic 1 – Holm Park, Sheppey – Saturday 7th May 2016
All cup finals should be settled by a spectacular winner and that was certainly the case in this one. Glebe, having finished just a couple of wins off a promotion place came into the cup final as favourites but it was Sutton Athletic who dictated the early play, getting their reward in the 10th minute when Jonny Murray scored. The turning point in the game came five minutes later when a miscommunication between the Sutton keeper, Dean James, and one of his centre-backs saw him way out of position and the Glebe forward with an open goal. The defender took one for the team and hauled down the centre-forward, earning a red card that few people could ever complain about.
Whilst Glebe couldn’t make anything of the resulting free-kick they started to make the man-advantage pay. They threw on more attacking options at the break but simply couldn’t find a way through the resolute Sutton defence until the 86th minute when James Alderman struck the ball through a crowd of players and in via a post to take the game to extra-time.
With a man advantage Glebe always looked like they would win whilst Sutton were trying to hold on for the penalty-kick lottery. With six minutes left, Glebe forward Ryan Golding defied gravity for such a big man and scored a superb overhead kick (captured majestically here by Alan Coombes) that saw the trophy head to Chislehurst.
Both teams gave a great account of themselves and the rude state of health in the Non-Leagues in Kent, whilst Sheppey United’s impressive off the field progress underlined what can be achieved through the community effect.