Waking up the neighbours

In a couple of years there could well be a brand new football stadium at the end of the road here in TBIRville in South London. In fact, we have a few building projects on the map that will make a huge difference to the area. First up will be our very own Premier Inn at the top of the hill. Whilst the Sizzle Grill can boast a 4.5 rating on TripAdvisor, the other main attractions of the area hardly demand a hotel.

“A library, Co-operative Food Store, a butchers and a Dance studio” says Wikipedia, which isn’t really known for playing down the truth. Heck, we only have 1 pub, in a mile radius. This is suburbia not the Shetlands!

Perhaps the hotel is needed for when Paramount Park opens in 2020. Europe’s largest Theme Park, indoor venue and entertainment attraction no less, to be built in Swanscombe just 7 miles away. I’m not sure why we need such excitement – after all we’ve already got a petting zoo round the corner.

But who wants inverted 4G rollercoaster when you can have football. Paramount Park? Pah! It’s all about Flamingo Park and the news that the world’s third oldest football team will finally stop being wanderers and have a home of their own. Welcome to the neighbourhood, Cray Wanderers.

IMG_2345The club, formed in 1860, may not be known to many who don’t frequent the Non League circles. The last few years haven’t been the kindest to the club. After sacking manager of 14 years, Ian Jenkins, in September 2013 the club have been on a downward spiral, first being relegated from the Ryman Premier League and not in the relegation zone of the North Division. The one ray of sunshine has been the news that the club have bought the option on the land to build the new stadium. There’s no houses close by (thus no potential NIMBY influence), surrounded by a crematorium and a driving range and access would be direct onto the A20 dual carriageway. It would replace the existing Flamingo Park structure, home now to car boot sales, desperate over 40’s singles nights and the occasional travelling fairground that keeps the teenage birth rate up in the area. Who wouldn’t want to give planning permission for that?

All being well The Wanderers could be on my Christmas card list in three years, although by then the 2,200 capacity stadium may be hosting county league football. Something needs to stop the rot. A pre-Christmas visit of high-flying Harlow Town and their goal machine Alex Read was surely just the tonic. In terms of preparation, losing your manager (Mike Paye) 24 hours before kick off probably isn’t the greatest preparation either.

With landlords Bromley playing on Saturday, Cray were bumped off the main bill to the support card of Sunday. What a perfect opportunity for all the harassed fathers and husbands to drop their treasures off in the High Street then escape for a couple of hours to watch some good, honest football? Or was it just me who had that idea?

IMG_2334The first thing you notice if you haven’t been to Bromley FC this season is that the ground is now called The Fortress.  Alas, despite the coaching genius of Hugo Langton, the name has nothing to do with the impregnable Bromley defence, it is related to a sponsorship deal.   Once you pass through the turnstiles you will also notice that the old “lower” bar has now been replaced.  Instead of the jigsawed portakabin structure there is now Ravens, a wooden-bedecked bar and grill.  Very smart too – would have been even better if there any staff actually serving before the game though.

Cray Wanderers 2 Harlow Town 2 – Hayes Lane – Sunday 21st December 2014
Twenty minutes into this game you felt like waving the white flag on behalf of the home side.  Two nil down to high-flying Harlow, to anyone watching the game it was a case of how many the visitors would score.  But football is a fickle mistress and within a minute Cray were back in the game.  A spirited second half performance against ten men almost saw them grab all three points, rather than the one they finally earned.

With no other games in London today, the crowd was boosted by a fair few anorak wearers, desperate to find a team sheet and get a touch of the ball.  There were some loud tuts in the bar at the fact there was no real ale on, with the closest thing being some bottles of MasterBrew.  A ground of German ground hoppers didn’t care as they tucked into the Oranjeboom (“It’s a lager not a tune” I reminded one), fresh from a trip to see Spurs yesterday.

IMG_2332Despite the culture shock of having to play on a ploughed field compared to their lush 3G pitch, Harlow started with the kind of momentum their league position suggests and had come close twice before Junior Appiah opened the scoring in the 4th minute in somewhat comical style.  A Cray goal kick hits a defender’s back on the half-way line, the wind then carries the ball back over the heads of the back four, Alex Read mis-hits the ball into the path of Appiah and he slots the ball home.

Appiah and Read were causing all sorts of problems for the Cray defence, with some calamitous defending keeping the score down.  That man Read then pounced on a loose ball in the box, doubling the score with just twenty minutes on the clock.  It was all going so well for the visitors.  And then it all changed.  Cray’s first corner of the game saw centre-half, Dmitri Larin, steal in and head home.  Hope springs eternal.

IMG_2343Despite mounting pressure in the second half, Harlow simply couldn’t find the target.  Their job of holding onto the lead was made harder when Billy Jones was sent off for what was deemed a “reckless foul”, a harsh decision in most people’s book although the resulting 20 player melee was amusing to say the least.

With the temperature plunging, Cray started to warm up.  Poor defending left the Cray sub Shaun Welford unmarked and he headed home.  Two goals conceded from two unmarked positions. Only one team seemed to be in the hunt for the winner and Cray came within inches of grabbing all three points in the final seconds when only an acrobatic clearance denied them.

Full time – a great way to spend the final hours of the weekend before Christmas.  Harlow wont be happy with a point after their early domination, but Cray showed the type of fight that’s needed to drag themselves out of the relegation zone.  Who knows, with a point here, and news of a new ground on the horizon there could be a happy ending for one of the world’s oldest Wanderers.

Five shades of Cray

After four weeks without a ball being kicked today looks like the day when we finally get to see some silky-smooth Lewes football. The Rooks have seen their last six games cancelled which now means they face 17 games in 8 weeks in March and April. Not that they are alone but it does reduce the concept of a league season from a marathon to a series of shuttle runs. In normal circumstances you wouldn’t bet against the teams with games in hand, but when you are forced to play 2 or 3 games a week most clubs would rather have the points in the bank.

However, you can never accuse the masters of our league of sitting on their hands and doing nothing. Oh no. This week they allowed VCD Athletic to play at home instead of away against Brentwood to avoid another cancellation (VCD sit top of the Ryman North with just the six games in hand over second place Soham Town Rangers). Respect.

12725040234_9157a90b48_bDue to Bromley’s game scheduled for yesterday, our match against tenants Cray Wanderers had been shunted 24 hours later onto a Sunday. Now this was unusual. I had to consult with ClubSec Kev on the last time we played on a Sunday (Hendon away 2010). Personally I’m all up for Sunday games as it means I can slip in a bonus game on a Saturday – oh, sorry I meant do some scouting on the Saturday.

It was 40 years ago last month that league football (bar the Sunday League-type stuff) was held on a Sunday. Millwall may be called a lot of things, but trendsetters isn’t normally one. However, on Sunday 20 January 1974 The Lions welcomed Fulham at The Den in what was the first of a dozen games played on that day. On police advice the game was to kick off at 11.30am and admission was by buying a programme as it was illegal at the time to sell tickets for sporting events on a Sunday (one of the reasons at the time why Test cricket had a rest day) thanks to the Sunday Observance Act of 1780. Continue reading

Wandering Eye

snv15357This week marks an important anniversary in my life.  Five years ago, on the 22nd November, I attended my first ever game at The Dripping Pan.  Lewes were taking on Grays Athletic in their ill-fated single season in the Conference Premier.  I’d never really paid any attention to the club and it took an email out of the blue from Danny Last which invited me to sample some of the fine hospitality the town, and more importantly, the club had to offer.  These were the days when Lewes were still to hit rock bottom both on and off the pitch.

In that first season I was an irregular visitor at the Pan, watching them fall out of the Conference Premier with a bang.  The following season I gave up my West Ham season ticket and started going to the odd away game too.  By year three I had my first ever Season Ticket and when the time came, became a life member of the club.  The rest, as they say is history.  I still think I have seen us lose more times than we have won at The Pan, but that ratio is slowly changing. Continue reading

St Nathan the Cray slayer

At 5pm on St George’s Day there is only one place any rightful Englishman should be.  In the pub.  That’s the real castle for us dragon-slaying proud Englishmen.  So here I was, in the most 21st century of English establishments, J D Wetherspoon.  You cannot grumble at paying £2.29 for a pint of Blueberry Pie, a fruity English stout with a distinct purplish tinge.  And what better circumstances than saluting our national saint and preparing to watch our national game.

So after the highs of the away trip to Harrow Borough on Saturday, we woke up on Sunday with a fuzzy head and a realisation that one more win could be enough to secure Premier League survival for another season.  That game would be against Cray Wanderers, just one place and two points above us.  Bromley (South) was our destination, and after a short hop, skip and a jump from JD Wetherspoon (Victoria Station) we were in JD Wetherspoon (Bromley).  A first for me – two Wetherspoon’s in less than a hour.

4983022247_383d3f9f68_bOf course with wallet busting prices at £2.20 a pint I got the first round in. Clever thinking, eh.  Ah yes, we only had time for one.  Bugger.  But still it was in jovial spirits that we left the pub for the short taxi ride to Hayes Lane, home of Bromley FC and their tenants, Cray Wanderers, the world’s third oldest football club.

These are testing times for Cray.  Mr. Relegation has been hanging around outside Hayes Lane for the past few weeks, waiting for an opportunity to pop in.  Their groundshare agreement with Bromley is due to end next year, and the prospect of a return to the heartlands of St Paul’s Cray seem further away than ever after Bromley council rejected their planning application for a new community stadium in September.  You often have to wonder whether local authorities actually want to see local football teams survive.  Despite all of the hard work of volunteers to secure a long term future for the club AND a benefit to the local community, Cray are back at square one, still having to worry about relegation just like Lewes. Continue reading

Sticky Toffee has never tasted so bad

It had been quite a good few weeks for the Rooks. Results on the pitch had been poor – in fact we were bottom of the current form table – six defeats from the last six games had brought Mr Relegation sniffing around our front door and our chance of a home win against Margate (and a chance to see match ball sponsor Luge Pravda lead the teams out in his PE kit) were dashed by the freak snow that hit East Sussex, cancelling the game for the second time in 2013.

8545562460_4c69d1e0da_bBut a football club is not just for Christmas, it’s forever and so our job as Directors is to build a sustainable club on and off the pitch. We are all 100% behind Simon Wormull (oh God, that sounds like a dreaded vote of confidence! Sorry Simon!) and believe that the team will comfortably avoid the bottom two. So it was positive to see our fantastic match posters get some of the press they have deserved. Both Proworx and East Web have a done a sterling job in recent years as designers, under the guidance of the likes of club Directors Charlie Dobres, Ben Ward and Patrick Marber (see the set here) and this week the national press came calling. BBC local news, Freund11 in Germany, MSN, Yahoo!, The Independent, The Sunday Times, heck even the Daily Mail got in on the act (although their interpretation of the facts still leaves a lot to be desired). Fine praise indeed, and it felt like the world and his wife were now following our results.

So after we put away our Kiss-Me-Quick hats from the Margate postponement, I looked forward to a short trip on the bus to Cray Wanderers for a relegation six pointer. After a morning of stripping (window ledges rather than with the employees of FYEO alas) CMF approved my efforts in the “Husband” department and sent me off to the bus stop, packed lunch and Thermos (you should always write that with a capital T as it is a brand and not an item – just like Hoover, Portakabin and Airtight), slipping my bus fare in my pocket and telling me to be home by 6pm. Alas, just as I set foot out of the door, Mr. Monsoon paid South East London a visit and another game fell by the wayside.

BFeZywoCMAAh-lXSo roll on 80 hours and we were back at the Pan. If Cray Wanderers was a six pointer, then the visit of bottom of the table Carshalton Athletic was a twenty-four pointer. Of course, this wasn’t the first time Carshalton had come to visit us. Just a few weeks ago they arrived in town, had a player sent off after less than 100 seconds, found themselves two goals down and then lost their manager all in the first half. As the teams headed for the dressing room the power to the Pan failed and despite us all holding up our mobile phones, the referee deemed it wasn’t enough so the game was abandoned. Continue reading