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.

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

The Boys of Summer

Bank Holiday Monday. A British institution of visiting DIY stores and slaving over a barbecue signalling the last rites of Summer. It is actually statistically more likely to be hot and sunny than any other day in the summer despite it being over 60 days since Midsummer’s Eve (well according to the BBC weather statistics page anyway). So what did I have planned? Well a trip “down the lane” to watch Bromley v Lewes with the EFW team for starters (I’d actually been to B & Q four times the day before, attended two BBQ’s and even slipped in two trips to the tip to satisfy the traditionalists)

Bromley are a bit of an enigma. Almost stuck at this level, yet one of the most progressive non-league clubs in the country. Forty years ago it had was very similar. Having just read the excellent “The Bromley Boys” by Dave Roberts on the 29th August 1969 the club lost 2-1 at home to Clapton, their 7th consecutive defeat in the Isthmian League. Fast forward forty years and the club are almost at home in the middle of the Blue Square South division.

The club were actually formed in 1892 and were one of the founder members of the Southern League, which at the time was seen as the second level of English football behind the Football League. The club made a name for themselves in the FA Amateur Cup, winning it three times, the last time in 1949 when an amazing crowd of over 96,000 saw them beat Romford at Wembley Stadium. The club also recorded their highest ever attendance at Hayes Lane when over 10,000 crammed in to see them play a touring Nigerian team, who beat them 3-1 whilst playing barefoot!

The club played in the Isthmian League for many years and unfortunately didn’t finish high up enough the table when the creation of the Blue Square North and South was announced in 2004, and consequently despite staying in the Isthmian they were effectively relegated. It took the club three seasons to regain their place in the second tier of non-league football after a penalty shoot out win in the play offs versus Billericay Town, having beaten AFC Wimbledon in front of a modern day record 3,429 fans.

So in August 2007 the club kicked off their campaign in the Blue Square South under the leadership of Mark Goldberg, the businessman who had suffered huge financial pressures when he took over at Crystal Palace a few years previously. Goldberg was to leave half way through the season due to work commitments, but returned at the end of the season after the club finished safely in mid-table, a situation they repeated this season.

Lewes came into this game with huge optimism. Despite a disastrous start to the season on the pitch, summed up by the last minute equaliser conceded at St Albans City last week, events off the field had turned out much more acceptable with the winding up order from the Inland Revenue now sorted out, and the club able to move forward in trying to stay in the division.

Even more good news came in the form of TBIR’s sponsored player, Ryan Storrie had been included in the squad for the games over the Bank Holiday weekend. Whilst he hadn’t got on during the 2-0 home defeat to Woking on Saturday, he was sure to feature in the game against Bromley.

Fuller Taxi’s dropped Lolly and myself at the ground for 1.30pm, and we headed straight into the ground. First impressions were good. Very old school and probably a harsh place to watch a game during the winter when the rain, sleet and snow blows across Norman Park, but in the lovely August sunshine it was a perfect venue. The basic view of the ground was completely opposite to the view in the club bar. A venue that would put many Football League grounds to shame. Excellent views of the pitch, a queuing system at the bar, a huge brunch for £3.50 and Bromley TV which shows highlights and interviews with the players done in a very professional manner (I should also add they have one of the best club websites I have seen in years). I can’t do the venue enough justice, so I will let my learned friend Mr Last picture the scene better here.

Bromley FC 3 Lewes FC 0 – The Courage Stadium – Monday 31st August 2009

Photo of the day thanks to Miss Fuller

Photo of the day thanks to Miss Fuller

With a heavy heart we left the bar and took our place on the benches behind the goal to cheer on the Rooks. Lolly was dispensed with the camera to be photographer for the day as I sat back to enjoy the sunshine. Strains of Take That songs drifted over the trees from the Bromley Festival (actually it was Fake That or Take This – a dire tribute band but what the heck). Lewes simply never got going and it was no surprise when a corner was not cleared and the big Aaron Dalhouse headed home with ease.

Half time saw us back in the bar, trying to find some positives from the game. It was obvious that the heat was affecting some of the players, but it was the same for both teams and none of us thought Lewes could get anything out of the game, including Rog, the Lewes grounds man who had showed everyone in the bar a picture of his latest grass cutting display. Danny managed to convince him to burn (yes burn with petrol), the words Lewes FC onto the grass bank that runs alongside the Dripping Pan touchline, so if you do see a piece in the Argus this week about a fire at the ground you’ll know who to blame!

The second half started with a bang. The bang coming from Deaks who, on leaving the bar saw the first glimpse of the afternoon of two would-be WAGS and walked into the door frame. The two looked very out of place, even on such a sunny day with orange tans, short skirts and little else in terms of modesty they paraded themselves around the ground, much to the amusement of the crowd. They were last seen in the bar after the game trying to corner a player or two.

The game didn’t get any better for Lewes. Sam Crabb missed a glorious chance for Lewes before becoming the victim of another heavy challenge and he was replaced by Ryan, getting me at least a point. With Bromley now two up Ryan provided some much needed width and on a couple of occasions worked his way to the by-line and almost creating a consolation goal with a great cross which was well met by Wheeler but the keeper pulled off his only real save of the day. With the clock ticking down the impressive Dalhouse smashed in a third from twenty five yards after Ryan Hall had again teed him up. Ryan Hall, Ryan Storrie, Ryan Timms…..all around the same age….Eighteen years ago who was the “heart throb” of football – step forward Ryan Giggs, in all his hairy chest glory. Another honour for the Manchester United star surely. I still cannot fathom the explosion of footballers called Jermaine though. Defoe, Pennant, Jenas, Beckford to name but a few but apart from Jermaine Stewart in the Eighties who foolishly thought that you didn’t have to take your clothes off to have a good time (parties would have been really exciting around Mr Stewart’s house then!).

Anyway, back to the bar and an appearance by CMF and Littlest Fuller who had been to Ikea all afternoon completed a Fuller family funday. There was still time for a bit of on the pitch high jinx, as Danny and Deaks reconstructed the famous Lewes penalty shoot out win from the 1983 season a la Phoenix from the Flames with me playing the crowd of a few hundred behind the goal. Fuller Taxis were on hand to whisk me home, with more than a few beers inside me, and glowing pride at some of the photos that Lolly took that would put mine to shame. The Boys of Summer may be over, but Weston-Super-Mare is on the agenda in a few weeks…It couldn’t get any better could it? I doubt it but we will give it a damn good go that is for sure.

About The Courage Stadium
Everyone knows the ground as Hayes Lane, despite it carrying the name of the brewers and it has been home to the club since 1938 when they moved from just down the road. It is a great non-league venue with a small main stand (with a fantastic bar at the top including a viewing area of the pitch) that sits around 4 foot above the playing surface. The stand was rebuilt in 1993 after fire destroyed the old one and it was named the John Fiorini Stand after xxxx. Opposite this is an excellent terrace that offers great views of the game, and behind each goal there are covered stands – one at the Norman Park end has benches which offer surprisingly good views. There is also a second bar next to the main stand where you can, shock horror, buy beer and drink it whilst watching the game!

How to get to The Courage Stadium
The ground is a fifteen minute walk from Bromley South station. Simply head right out of the station, cross the road and walk down Westmoreland Road, taking the first left into Hayes Road and following this all the way down to Hayes Lane where the ground is opposite you. Alternatively a number of buses run past the ground including the 314 from Eltham, 146 from Bromley Town centre and 119 from Croydon.

Getting a ticket for the Courage Stadium
Simple £10 for Adults and £5 for Concessions, paying on the door. The club do deals for families as well, offering free entrance for more than one child.