Walking football


Growing up I pleaded with my Dad to buy every house we saw for sale on our walk from the car parked near Plaistow tube station to The Boleyn Ground.  Wouldn’t it be brilliant to live next to a football ground?  I used to believe that the players spent every waking hour at the ground and probably would be a neighbour when we moved it.   I couldn’t understand his reluctance to give up our nice house in the country with a big garden for a terrace house on Green Street with a sofa in the front yard.

As the years have passed my interest in living so close waned as I saw exactly what fans did in the front gardens of the houses near grounds.  Of course the players didn’t live anywhere near the ground or even the fans, shudder the thought of having to mix with them.  But the idea of being able to nip out of the door at 2:55pm and be back in time for the distinct sounds of Sports Report is somewhat appealing.

Whenever I travel to games overseas I always try to stay close to the stadium, not having to worry about public transport post match.  I also love the idea of waking up, opening the curtains and seeing a stadium there in front of me, as I did in Bilbao back in November when I was almost in touching distance of the beautiful San Mames stadium.

Whilst it wasn’t quite in touching distance, the away trip to Greenwich Borough was one I had been looking forward to because I didn’t have to rely on any public transport or any need to drive or be driven (in the end I did use public transport and I did get a lift home) as their home ground in Middle Park Avenue was just 1.6 miles away, and with the Park Tavern at the half-way point, the meeting point for the extended Lewes Lunatic Fringe.  The Park Tavern is my local, despite being a mile away (we are bereft of pubs bizarrely in this area of London) and it was confirmed that we were the largest away support they had ever seen, although our only competition was the three Belgium fans who had got off the train at Mottingham just down the road thinking it was Nottingham and were looking for the City Ground apparently.

In a week where finances in Non-League football have come under the spotlight again with the crazy situation taking another turn for the ridiculous at Billericay Town, we headed down to Greenwich Borough.  It’s very hard to find out the real numbers behind virtually every club at our level and whilst we are completely transparent in publishing our budget, we still get questions from other clubs saying “but that’s not your real budget though is it?” And our answer is always the same, “yep” although of course the number we publish is the gross number, not the net one.  Greenwich Borough’s entry into the Isthmian League and the investment in Gary Alexander’s squad has led to many speculating that they are the best funded squad in the league, with former Football League players such as Peter Sweeney, Bradley Pritchard, Charlie MacDonald and Glenn Wilson.  Expectations are therefore high down at The DGS Marine Stadium (named after the Chairman’s shipping business) and they will be seething at the fact they let top spot slip through their fingers in the Autumn, although they’ve never fallen out of the Play-off spaces since.

Fifteen minutes before kick-off with our formation and tactics sorted, captain Lloyd Cotton put his foot down a divot on the warm-up pitch.  His presence at the back cannot be underestimated.  In the 19 games he has played centre-back this season, we had won 13 and drawn 3.  Fortunately we had Stacey Freeman on the bench to come into the side at the eleventh hour, albeit carrying an injury himself.  With the sun shining, the Rooks took to the field hoping that they would put in a South Park rather than a Godalming Town performance and move level on points with our hosts.

Greenwich Borough 1 Lewes 0 – DGS Marine Stadium – Saturday 26th March 2017
In the end this game was decided by two poor decisions, one made by Lewes’s Jack Dixon and one made by the referee. Third versus fifth and there was very to choose between the two sides at the start but by 5pm there was six points and four places – the difference between having a shot at promotion come end of April and a summer licking our wounds.

Football should always be enjoyed in the sunshine with a beer but in the first twenty minutes there was very little action on the pitch.  Both sides were cancelling themselves in midfield and with the Rooks battling both with the uphill slope and the strong wind in their face, they were happy to restrict the hosts to shots from distance.  Then in the space of a minute we went from attacking a corner to picking the ball out of the net.

It essentially went like this.  Sow corner to far post, Freeman jumps and is penalised.  Holloway takes free-kick, the bounce beats Harrington but Dixon is there to clear danger.  He under-hits his back pass to Winterton and Charlie MacDonald gets in front of Stacey Freeman and drills it past the Lewes keeper.  It was OK though as we would have the conditions in our favour in the second half.

The second period was dominated in my eyes by two events.  Firstly the wind blew over my 1/2 full pint of Badger’s Bitter and then Stephen Okoh was blatantly taken out in the area and the referee turned a blind eye.  There was no doubt that the first incident was an accident but the second was as clear a penalty as you could ever ask for.  On many other occasions we would have been celebrating a spot kick but that’s football for you.  Okoh then hit the bar with ten to play but that was the closest we came to scoring.  At the other end Winterton was rarely troubled as Greenwich Borough professionally saw the game out to grab all three points.

The disappointment wasn’t in the manner we lost – there was very little between the two sides – but in the fact every other team challenging with us for the Play-offs won.  We’d gone from fourth to seventh in the space of six days.  But with games coming thick and fast against 9th, 6th, 5th and 4th in the table to come in the next three weeks, nobody was giving up.

I could have walked home, smug that I had not added anything to my carbon footprint but Baz offered me a lift.  Just like living next to a ground seems like a great idea, turning down a lift to walk home was the sensible option.

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The Wanderers


After the excitement of the FA Cup at Redhill yesterday, I needed a day to recover.  Well, actually I needed a day to mow the lawns, tidy up the TBIR Museum, do some proper work and generally be the perfect husband and father I aspire to be.  But with all my chores ticked off by 1pm, the wonderful Current Mrs Fuller suggested I should have some me time.

In fact before she had even got to the end of her sentence I was off, heading a few miles south-west to the metropolis known as Beckenham, right in the heart of Crystal Palace land.  For here, for one afternoon only, Lewes Ladies aka The Rookettes, would be taking on the Millwall Lionesses in a FAW Premier League game.  And if that was not enough, there was the prospect of the second half of the FA Cup tie at Greenwich Borough to think of.  Lazy Sunday afternoon my arse.

So first up was the visit of the Lewes Ladies to South-East London.  Much has been written about the unbelievable achievements of this side, who will this season be competing with the likes of West Ham, Tottenham and Millwall.  Clubs who operate at the highest level of football in this country, and in the top twenty richest football clubs in the world.  Of course, they will argue there is no direct link between the exploits of West Ham Ladies and Sam Allardyce’s side, but they carry the same name, the same colour kit and the same fans.  So from that perspective, the fact that Lewes would be taking the field against a side who operate five leagues above the Rooks was amazing in itself. Continue reading

Running up that hill


With the Lewes v Horsham game all done by 2pm, and my agreed ETA back at TBIR Towers 5.30pm I had a few options as to where I could lay my hat for the afternoon.  My initial plan was the Kent derby between Landlords Sittingbourne and tenants Maidstone United at Bourne Park but bloody Sunday drivers on the A26 up through Tunbridge Wells meant I was never going to make that.  A quick look at the great non league fixture computer in the sky (i.e Google) threw up one real alternative – Sevenoaks Town v Greenwich Borough

I have become quite a fan of the Kent Premier League in the past few seasons, primarily because it is local.  In some instances, such as Cray Valley, Erith & Belvedere and Holmsdale I can even cycle to games.   However, a cycle down (and thus at some stage, back up) the North Downs wasn’t too appealing so I had the perfect opportunity to visit on this trip.

Sevenoaks Town have been knocking around for nearly one hundred and thirty years.  However, it wasn’t until 2003 that they joined the ranks of the Kent League.  Since then they have expanded their ground, located in the picturesque Greatness Park to the north of Sevenoaks to fulfil all the grounding requirements known to man.  Floodlights, smart new changing rooms, a couple of little stands and a decent tea bar.  All ticks in the boxes.

Sevenoaks is a nice place.  In fact last week it was voted 5th in “We have more million pound houses in a single road than you” competition.  Alas the original Seven Oaks, located around the Vines cricket ground were blown down (bar one) in the 1987 great storm although today they have planted some more – in fact eight more although there are no plans to rename the town as Nine Oaks. Continue reading

We Fade to Cray


If you look hard enough you will find a non-league team closer than you think. Unless you live with one literally next door you can probably find one that you can walk to, or dare I say it, cycle. Of course there are always definitions as to what exactly constitutes a Non League team but to me I class it as one that could reach Wembley in the FA Trophy or Vase.

TBIR Towers sits quite close to a number of clubs. Welling United isn’t more than a ten minute bike ride away, Bromley/Cray Wanderers a bit further (and a 314 bus ride) but there is one closer. And ashamedly I had never graced them with my presence. So with Lewes away on the other side of London in Harrow and me on a three-line whip to be hope by 5pm there was a perfect opportunity to hop on my Raleigh Grifter and cycle downhill all the way to my “local club”, Cray Valley Paper Mills.

The reason why I had never seen them was that a) We do not live anywhere near Cray Valley, and b) There isn’t a Paper Mills near our house. How was I to know that they moved to Eltham some years ago but had never managed to shed the Paper Mills part of their name (and that  the river Cray was now 6 miles away). The club had been promoted to the Kent Premier League last season and were admitted to the level below the Ryman League despite the fact they didn’t have floodlights or stands. So having cycled passed the ground on dozens of occasions you can understand why I never knew there was a team playing there. Continue reading

The Real Football Factory


The waiting was finally over – whilst the “official” season isn’t due to start until mid August, the pre-season friendly season started today.  Yes I know we have the little matter of the World Cup going on in South Africa but I have been without a game for four weeks.  Four blooming long weeks.  Sure cricket had filled a gap, and the children had seen more of me than they ever had on a Saturday, but as soon as the pre-season fixtures started leaking out I constructed a schedule like no other to take advantage of a few interesting games.

So first up was Saturday 3rd July.  Not much really going on..that was until I saw one game that I simply could not miss.  Leyton versus Greenwich Borough was hardly going to set the pulses racing but when I saw the venue I had to re-arrange our family day out and forsake the Germany v Argentina game on TV to be there.

A few of us have experienced that feeling of coming down the steps at Wembley Park tube station on Cup Final day when your team is playing.  Butterflies in the stomach, everyone with their hopes and dreams still in tact and that walk….Well what else could match that?  What about finding a game on your doorstep?  Sure I have stayed at hotels that are part of stadiums (The Reebok, The Madejski and Upton Park) and hotels that are within a few minutes walk (San Mames hotel in Bilbao, Marriot in Hannover and Tulip at Old Trafford) but one that is within a few minutes of your house? Continue reading