Sunday, 7 January 2018

Eastbourne Town - The Saffrons

Eastbourne Town FC
The Saffrons
Compton Place Road
East Sussex
BN21 1EA

Ground Number: 752
Saturday 6th January 2018
Eastbourne Town 1-3 Windsor
FA Vase 4th Round


The club was formed in 1881 as Devonshire Park, changing their name to Eastbourne 8 years later before finally settling on Eastbourne Town in 1971. The first league they have a record of calling home was the Southern Amateur League where they stayed until 1946, though they spent one season away in 1920/21, finishing 3rd as founder members of the Sussex County League. A spell in the Corinthian League followed, two 7th place finishes were the highlights. In 1963 Eastbourne joined the Athenian League at Division 1 level, though they struggled and were relegated to Division 2 after a few seasons. They eventually recovered, winning the league in 1976 and rejoining the Sussex County League. They'd remain in the top tier for most of their stay here, even being crowned champions in their first season. They were briefly relegated to Division 2 in 2001, though a runners-up spot behind Rye & Iden United in 2003 was enough to see them promoted back up. This was followed by their second Division 1 championship in 2007. This time Eastbourne Town opted to take the step up to the Isthmian League, playing in Division 1 South. Their best ever finish in the modern pyramid came in 2013 as they finished 11th, however, they were relegated the following season. Since returning to the Sussex League, it has been renamed the Southern Combination. Finishes have been excellent, with the club always being in the top 5. Prior to today's game, they sat 3rd, with a real chance of gaining promotion at the end of the season.

In the FA Cup, Eastbourne has reached the 4th Qualifying Round four times, the latest coming in 1967 as they lost 9-0 at home to Margate. Success has been hard to come by in the FA Amateur Cup and FA Trophy but a number of good runs have been enjoyed in the FA Vase. The best of those came in 1976 when they narrowly lost 1-0 at Barton Rovers in the 5th Round of the FA Vase.Local honours include the Sussex Senior Cup on 12 occasions and the Royal Ulster Rifles Cup six times. The club's record attendance of 7,378 came for an FA Cup game against Hastings United in 1953.

Eastbourne Town has two main supporters groups. The brilliantly named 'Pier Pressure' help out the club, producing the match day programmes, maintaining social media channels and selling merchandise. The edgier Beachy Head Ultras also lend their support, both bringing a display of banners, flags and occasionally smoke bombs on matchdays. Unlike at Clapton, the supporters have been welcomed and embraced by the club. Contrary to the town's traditional Tory support, these fans are unapologetically left wing. They have supported local causes, including the Eastbourne Foodbank and anti-racist charities. Their latest cause is to help out the Windsor Homeless Project, an organisation in the hometown of today's visitors. The homeless in Windsor have been treated with callous disregard by their local council with leader Simon Dudley wanting to clear the streets of the homeless before the upcoming 'Royal Wedding' - even going as far as to contact the police to make sure the protocol gets followed. The crazy thing is, this should not be happening in a civilised country. Giving every single person who needs it a hot meal and a warm bed for a night will cost a fraction of what the aforementioned wedding will eventually total up to.


Usually, I look forward to FA Cup 3rd Round weekend and get to a good game. This year, however, it had been a right rubbish draw, with very few decent ties. The media might have been getting themselves excited about Liverpool v Everton, Crystal Palace v Brighton and Middlesbrough v Sunderland, but these ties were ten a penny with the sides being in the same league. My own team Wycombe had been 'rewarded' with an uninspiring home tie against Preston North End. Normally I'd have gone regardless, but with the game not capturing my imagination and the £20 ticket price put me off. Don't get me wrong, it's not an outrageous amount, but usually, I pay £11.80 a game for the league games. Whilst many clubs had decided to reward loyal season ticket holders with a discount, mine had seemingly taken theirs for granted and were charging them full price. I started seeking out alternatives - Birmingham City v Burton Albion was a dull tie, but I'd not been to St Andrews for years. They were offering their own season ticket holders a discount of a fiver and it was still only £15 otherwise. However, I'd left it too late to get a cheap train. I started looking at other competitions, namely the FA Vase. For me, the best tie here was Eastbourne Borough v Windsor. I checked the Windsor FC Twitter to see if they had any spare coach places - they did have on the players' coach, so I nabbed one. The best thing was, it was completely free, as visiting clubs have their expenses paid for FA Competitions. With entry at £6, it was ironic that I could get a ticket, travel to Eastbourne and much more for what I'd have paid if I'd gone to Wycombe. Windsor was one of my most seen clubs, having seen them play 22 times (although some were under their former guise of Windsor & Eton) and I always enjoyed a visit to their home ground, Stag Meadow.

The night before the game was spent with a few cans, playing my lasted football manager game, which was my European journeyman save. After starting off unemployed, I got the job at second-tier Romanian club CF Balotesti and was doing pretty well. I got a fairly early night, waking at 7am the next morning. After playing a few more games, I had breakfast and a bath before leaving for Windsor at 9.40. By 10.15, I was at the ground and after parking up, I popped down the local shop for a paper. We had a bit of a wait for the coach to depart as one of the players was stuck in traffic. We eventually got away at 10.55. Luckily the journey was decent, with some players coming up the front of the bus to sing. After a rather ropey rendition of Amy Winehouse’s ‘Valerie’ they gave up. We stopped at Peace Pottage services for 20 minutes where I had a lukewarm and mediocre steak and cheese slice at Greggs, though at least it only cost £1.30. We got to the ground at 1.20, parking up on the road outside.

There were two Wetherspoons pubs that I wanted to 'tick' both within walking distance. I went to the better-looking one first, the London and County and wasn't disappointed. One of my favourite ciders, Black Dragon was on offer at the usual wallet friendly Wetherspoons prices and I was able to watch the Fleetwood v Leicester FA Cup game there. The second Wetherspoons, the Cornfield Garage was pretty crap - no real cider and no tables to get food. At least some of the Windsor fans there cheered me up, remembering me from when I used to watch them regularly under Dennis Greene. 'Have you bought the baldy geezer' they asked, in reference to Paul, the mate who I roped into going to watch random games. I wasn't a groundhopper at the time and wished I'd started earlier, but always enjoyed my visits to Stag Meadow. After the second pint, I went in search of takeaways. I found one place, RFC and ordered a strips and chips meal for £4. It was pretty poor - the chips and drink were fresh, but the strips tasted like they’d been sitting around for hours. After that, I made my way to the ground. I arrived at 2.20, paying a reasonable £6 to get in. The programmes were already sold out, no issue to me as I got a team sheet, but they missed out on some revenue. I was still peckish, so went and got some chips from the tea bar. Service was really slow, about 20 minutes to serve a small queue but I was out in time for the game.

I'd been hoping to cut and paste a match report from the Non-League paper below, but alas, a reporter was not sent. Even if they weren't interested, the public was with the day's second-best crowd in the FA Vase of 596. Windsor had bought a fair number of fans, mainly by train and they would have been pleased as their team made a bright start. Home keeper Greg Nessling made a couple of good saves, including one from former Football League striker Barry Hales, still going strong despite being 46 in May. It was against the run of play that Eastbourne Town took the lead on  Hesitancy in the Windsor defence allowed Evan Archibald to net from close range to give his side the lead on 27 minutes. Eastbourne took the game by the scruff of its neck for a long while and it was only a great save from Windsor keeper Hugo Sobte that prevented the lead from being doubled. It was the hosts that had much the better of the second half, but Windsor were awarded a penalty on 78 minutes. Kieran Knight stepped up and converted well, the balance of play now tipping back in the visitors favour. With a couple of minutes of normal time remaining, substitute Nadir Shafi rifled into the roof of the net to give Windsor the lead. Shafi turned provider deep into injury time, setting up a goal on the break. It was a simple finish for fellow sub Matt Stockhill who slotted into an empty net after the ball was squared. The final whistle prompted wild celebrations from the Windsor players who were jubilant at the result.

After the game, I made my way into town to get some drinks and snacks from Poundland. Irn Bru and Chocolate Creme bars bought, I made my way back to the first Wetherspoons. Here I had half a Black Dragon as it’s a fairly rare treat for me. I was back at the coach for 5.40 and had a good chat to the driver who was just as keen to get home as me. The Windsor players deserved their celebrations though, pulling off a result against the odds and putting in their best FA Vase performance since 1982 and indeed in the entire reformed club’s history. Sadly, I won’t be able to join them as the football league has scheduled Wycombe home games in every round, just as they did with the FA Cup Qualifiers. We left at 6.20 with the players in great spirits which ensured a lively journey home. There was a stop at Tesco Express which allowed the players to get some well deserved liquid refreshment. I’d have loved to have joined them, but it would have been lunacy with me driving in a couple of hours. We eventually got back at 8.25, me having had a good day out, all for less than the price the ticket alone would have cost at Wycombe. I got back in at 9 and from there it was the usual Saturday night ritual of Match Of The Day, despite me being up at 4 am the next morning. I await the draw with interest, although barring the game being on an unusual day, will not be able to attend.


THE SAFFRONS is a decent ground for step 5, having seen service at a higher level. There’s an area of standing cover along one side, but the main area is behind the goal with around 200 seats and 350 standing under cover. The rest of the ground is open to the elements and includes lots of steps of terracing. In addition, there’s a decent tea bar and reasonable bar. The town is right on the doorstep, your best bet is to eat and drink at the London and County Wetherspoons, well above average for the chain.


1: Ground facilities & condition (for the level)
Good ground for step  (7)

2: Area around the ground (parking, food/drink, public transport)
Right near the town, but decent parking (8)

3: Welcome / Club Friendliness
Good officials, compassionate ultras (9)

4: Value for money
Solid value at £6 (7)

5: Social Media & Website
Well updated and interactive (8)

6: Programme
Sold out (-)

7: Game entertainment
A decent game (7)

8: Tea Bar
Decent value (7)

9: Bar / Clubhouse
Fairly sized, Sports TV, OK drinks selection (6)

10: Club Shop

None that I saw (-)



Thursday, 4 January 2018

Bermondsey Town - Crystal Palace National Sports Centre

Bermondsey Town FC
Crystal Palace National Sports Ground
Outdoor Stadium
Ledrington Road
Crystal Palace
SE19 2BB

Ground Number: 751
Wednesday 3rd January 2018
Bermondsey Town 1-2 AFC Kumazi Strikers


The club was formed in 2013 and started out life in the Metropolitan Sunday League. Their first ever competitive game came on Sunday 29th September 2013 as they defeated Old Bromelians 4-1 thanks to two goals apiece from Gibbons and Manning. Records are unclear as to whether the games were completed that season, but in any case, the following season saw a 3rd place finish in Division 2. The 2015/16 season saw them crowned champions of Division 2. Last season they went even better, finishing 3rd in 
the Ron Hope Premier Division and getting to the final of the George Harley Cup. Following this successful season, they switched to Saturday football. This season has gone well, as Bermondsey Town recorded their biggest ever win as they defeated Ashtead 12-0 in November and currently sit in 5th place prior to the Christmas and New Year break.


With a really limited choice of games this week, I was glad when an option at an interesting venue came up. Combined Counties League club AC London had briefly used the Crystal Palace National Sports Ground a couple of years ago when they were in the Kent Invicta League, but the costs had quickly become too much to bear. With no new tenants taking their place at the ground that was built on the site of the former FA Cup Final venue. However, in the final few days of last year, I was alerted of a game that would be played at the venue by a fellow hopper. It was only a friendly and I hadn't heard of the two teams - Bermondsey Town and AFC Kumazi before, but it was free entry. With little else on and it being a rare game at an unusual venue, it would be a good chance to meet up with some other hoppers who were also attending.  It had certainly generated a lot of interest, thanks to their very decent website and social media channels. There was even a programme being produced, but I wanted to find out as much as I could about the host club as possible before I went. It did involve a bit of digging around various websites but I got a rough idea. It was interesting to note that their opponents, AFC Kumazi Strikers had spent their history playing in the hosts' former home of the Metropolitan Sunday League.

On the day of the game, it was my first 4 am start of 2018. Unusually, work was busy for a Wednesday and I didn’t finish until 1. I drove straight home and got into bed, taking a while to drift off, which was a shame as I hadn’t had the best night of sleep due to the rain the previous night. I eventually did drop off, waking at 4.45 when my alarm sounded. After checking Twitter and seeing that the game was on, I had a lasagne for dinner before leaving at 5.15. Twenty minutes later, I was parked up near Amersham station, with me clocking in 5 minutes later. After another 5 minutes, I was on my scheduled 5.45 train. I’d decided against this, rather than braving the M25. It was doubly good for me as I needed to catch up online and it gave me a chance to start my blog. The sooner Google gets on with inventing self driving cars, so I can do this on every trip, the better. I was glad of my free copy of the Metro on the underground, as there was no phone signal. After a change at Finchley Road, I got off at London Bridge to get my overground train. Usually, I stop here for the brilliant Borough Market, but on this occasion, it was a train to Crystal Palace. The Southern rail service sat around for 10 minutes, before finally kicking into gear 10 minutes after it’s scheduled departure time. It got to Crystal Palace station at 7.30.

From there it was a few minutes walk to the ground which was easy to find. Locating the entrance and then the pitch was easier said than done. I walked up with Mishi, a Dulwich fan, thanks to directions from other hoppers, we had a vague idea of where we were going. It involved the totally illogical method of walking in the opposite direction towards the leisure centre and then going down into their basement. After following signage, that then stopped, we eventually found our way thanks to some helpful people. A lot of the players were lost too, which is probably why the game finally kicked off at 8.15. A lot of the 47 in attendance were groundhoppers including my Braintree supporting mate Dan, his mate Luke, Ken who had come down from Leicester, a couple of hoppers from Sutton and Chris from Kings Langley. There was even a hopper in attendance from Germany who had passed up the chance of a revisit to Arsenal for a rare tick. With entry and a single sheet programme free, he certainly saved a fair bit of money.

The game kicked off with both teams keen to open the scoring. Bermondsey Town came closest in the opening couple of minutes- good work down the right allowed a cross to be put in with the effort thumping the left hand post. It was another cross from the left that opened the scoring for the visitors on 14 minutes with the initial shot being saved but the rebound being put away. Less than 30 seconds it was all square, a thumping shot from a decent distance that gave the keeper no chance. There were chances for both sides, but a lot of times when the game went flat. Bermondsey Town had a kit and possibly team change at half time, but it was the AFC Kumazi who got the winner on 71 minutes. A penalty was awarded for a foul on the edge of the area and it was duly dispatched by Gerald Akosa who slotted confidently into the bottom left-hand corner. A few minutes later, referee Nathan Buckle was forced to call a premature end to proceedings as the lights were switched off thanks to a local curfew.

After the game, I said my goodbyes and walked to the station with a few other hoppers. Google Maps had recommended all kinds of routes, but I decided to play it safe and go back the way I’d come. A 10-minute wait for my train to London Bridge went quick enough, then it was a short wait at Finchley Road to get my final train home. I got into Amersham at 11.25, getting home 20 minutes later. I got straight into bed and tried to get to sleep, however, it took me ages to drift off. I was pretty tired when I woke at 4 am the following morning and needed a couple of hours sleep when I got home the following afternoon. Up next for me, is a game on Saturday. Wycombe Wanderers v Preston North End looks to be the likely choice but leaves me uninspired. Therefore I'm exploring my options and will decide soon.


THE CRYSTAL PALACE NATIONAL SPORTS CENTRE is an interesting and historic venue, with a 16,000 capacity. The athletics facilities make it far from ideal for watching football, but if you sit at the top of the stand, the views are acceptable. Getting in is a bit of a lottery, though I’d imagine things would be more organised if there was a regular team playing here. Facilities at the ground are limited, a few vending machines were about it. Public transport options are good, plus there was plenty of parking. The closest station is Crystal Palace, which has a limited range of takeaways around it. West or East Penge are fairly close and these have a better choice. As for pubs, I’m unsure as I didn’t look.

Saturday, 23 December 2017

Crockenhill - Wested Meadow

Crockenhill FC
Wested Meadow
Eynsford Road

Ground Number: 750
Saturday 23rd December 2017
Crockenhill 0-8 K Sports


The club was formed in 1946 and was the result of a merger between two local clubs - Crockenhill Youth and Mudhole Dynamo. They spent their early years in the Kent County Amateur League, winning a number of titles and promotions. Spells in the Aetolian League, which became the Greater London League followed, before Crockenhill switched to the Kent League in 1968. They were champions in 1983 - at the time, this league sat at step 5 of the non-league pyramid and remains the best season in the club's history to date. They remained here until 1999 when a lack of floodlights forced them to drop down to the Kent County League. This prompted a lean spell for the club and they dropped as low as Division 1 West, finishing bottom of the step 8 league in 2011. The formation of the Kent Invicta League in that year allowed Crockenhill to make the jump up to step 6, with them being less fussy about floodlights. They've generally struggled since joining, the best finish since joining being 13th out of 16 teams in 2013. They currently sit bottom of the league and it's unclear whether relegation will be enforced as it depends on whether there are any suitable step 7 applicants willing to make the step up.

Crockenhill's lack of floodlights has prevented them entering the FA's competitions in recent times, but they did enter the FA Cup for 5 seasons in the latter half of the 1980's. Their sole win came in 1987 as they travelled to Flackwell Heath and came away 3-0 victors, though they lost 3-1 at Harefield United in the 1st Qualifying Round. Appearances in the FA Vase have been less sporadic and the club has had a couple of notable runs. They've reached the 4th twice - losing 2-0 at home to Molesey in 1975 and 3-1 at Buckingham Town in 1984. Local cup honours include the Kent Senior Trophy in 1981 and the Sevenoaks Charity Cup in 1949. The most famous player to play for the club is former Republic of Ireland international Tony Cascarino who they didn't want a transfer fee for when he signed for Gillingham in 1981. Instead, the Gills donated some tracksuits and training equipment to the club. The small village of Crockenhill has a population of 1,336 and the land the club plays on is owned by a local farmer. According to a 2013 article, the landlord is only willing to allow the club to erect floodlights if they increase their rent from £4,000 to £18,000 a year and is only willing to give them a year to year lease, despite football being played on the site since 1908.


Originally on this day, I'd been hoping to revisit Kidderminster Harriers for their game against Nuneaton Town. It was a ground that I'd been looking to revisit for a number of years and this was one of the few Saturdays that they were at home and that I could make it. However, owing to the unpredictable weather and having to leave at a ridiculous hour to get a cheap train, I decided against it. Instead, it would be another trip to London - something that I fancied with it being near Christmas. New ground options were thin on the ground, however, with all games kicking off at 2PM due to lack of lights. It was something that I'd have to put up with though, even if it meant a truncated pre-match, thanks to the ground being right on the outskirts of the TFL network. At least I'd be able to go to Borough Market beforehand and have a couple of pints beforehand. My research told me the pubs were very poor in Swanley, where I'd be getting the train to, not so much as a Wetherspoons for a pre-match meal. There were takeaways, but the choice was limited and they would mean a small detour before a half hour walk to Crockenhill.


On the day of the game, I woke fairly early, just before 7. It had been a late one the night before and I’d not got to bed until around 2. Even though I’d had less than 5 hours sleep, I felt fine. After a chicken burger for breakfast, I watched last night’s Coronation Street and a few other things. I then got freshened up and dressed, before leaving at 9.15. After parking up, I got to the station in the nick of time, buying a Daily Star before getting the 9.39 Chiltern Railways train. After changes at Harrow on the Hill and Finchley Road, I got to London Bridge around 10.45. It was a short walk to the cider stall at Borough Market where I had 3 new ciders. I left at 11.40 and after various changes found myself at Victoria for the final leg of my journey. It was annoying to have a 35-minute wait for my train, so I got myself a chicken burger and chips for under £3 to pass the time. I’d have preferred something fancy at the market, but the times didn’t work out for me. I finally got the 12.37 to Ramsgate, which got to Swanley just after 1.30 but decided not to let me out, closing the doors on me before I could get out. The Uber from Farningham Road cancelled on me, so I had to get the train back and hope for the best. This involved on travelling on a backwater service, so I had another half hour wait for the train. Luckily I arrived back at Swanley just in time, and apart from having to pay £6 for a taxi to the ground, the damage was minimal.

The hosts had a tough task ahead of them, sitting bottom of the table and with just three league wins and no draws all season. They came fresh off the back of a 4-0 defeat to fellow strugglers Lewisham Borough and had lost 9-1 at Kent Football United just a few games ago. They did have an exciting home game last time out as they lost 4-3 to mid-table FC Elmstead. Their last victory had come at the start of November with a 3-1 win over 5th placed Bridon Ropes which completed the double over the Charlton based side, as they won 2-1 there in late August. The other win was a 3-1 victory over Lewisham Borough the previous week. K Sports would provide a stiff challenge, sitting a point clear at the top of the league and fresh off the back of a 1-0 win over Holmesdale, one of 3 victories in their last 5 games. Previous meetings between the sides included a 6-1 victory for K Sports in the League Cup in October and although the corresponding fixture last season had seen a 3-3 draw, K Sports had won the return 6-3 on their own patch.

I got to the ground at 1.50, paying £6 to get in. There was no programme yet, owing to an issue with the printer. Apparently, the editor had gone home to print them. The programmes eventually arrived 20 minutes into the second half, I was happy to pay a quid for a copy. I was hoping for a performance of note from Crockenhill but was left disappointed. K Sports were ahead within 5 minutes when Matt Gething fired home a low shot from just inside the area. Caine Smith added a second for the visitors on 13 minutes when a looping cross was headed in. It was 3-0 on 20 minutes, Gething getting his second of the game as he poked home a close-range effort following hesitancy in the home defence. With the visitors firmly in control, there was little chance of the 20 football fans seeing a second-half comeback, instead, it got much worse. A looping shot from Smith made it 4-0 after 48 minutes before the home keeper made a cracking double save to keep the score at four. It was a brief respite though, as, from the corner, Gething completed his hat-trick with a header on 58 minutes. Another header from a cross made it 6-0 three minutes later, this time it was Smith completing his hat-trick. More poor defending saw Smith poke home his 4th on 81 minutes. The scoring was finally complete minutes later and they saved the best until last. Richard Butler lobbed home from distance to make it 8-0 and a complete rout for the visitors. I'd expected a K Sports victory, but not by this margin. Crockenhill offered little, save for a couple of chances on the break, a real shame for a decent club.

It was a comprehensive away win and could have easily been 2 or 3 times as bad for the hapless hosts. After the game, I walked the 2 miles back to Swanley. The start wasn’t great, down a narrow road with no pavement and some cars being too close for comfort. Eventually, I got back to town around 4.30. As I was hungry, I went in search of food, getting some chicken, Irn Bru and some crisps from Asda. It was still a fair walk to the station and so it wasn’t until just after 5 that I got there. Luckily, my train was there waiting for me, so I got straight on that and went back to Waterloo. It took ages for the train to make the last stop, but at least I had the whole carriage to myself. Whereas my first train was deserted, once I got on the underground it was very busy. I got the Jubilee line to Wembley Park, changing at Harrow On The Hill to try and get back quicker. It turned out to be worthwhile, little more than 5 minutes later, I was heading for Amersham. I got back to the station, walking back to my car and driving home. I got back at 7.30 and watched the Leicester City v Manchester United game on TV, as well as Match Of The Day later on. It was nice for once, not having to worry about being up on Sunday, as I had a rare Sunday off for Christmas.


WESTED MEADOW is a groundhoppers favourite and rightly so as it’s delightfully ramshackle. There’s the main stand that holds around 150 at a push, plus a couple of covered areas holding around the same again.  There’s a basic tea bar, plus a great clubhouse. Though the drinks range is limited, the walls are plastered with newspaper cuttings related to the club. There’s not much around the ground, a local shop and a pub, as well as an Indian Takeaway in the evening. The nearest place for a larger range of facilities is Swanley, 2 miles away, although it is on a bus route.


1: Ground facilities & condition (for the level)

Has everything that’s needed for this level, bar lights. Delightfully ramshackle (7)

2: Area around the ground (parking, food/drink, public transport)

Out in the sticks, village is limited but pleasant (4)

3: Welcome / Club Friendliness

Helpful and friendly (7)

4: Value for money
Average for the level (6)

5: Social Media & Website

Both have reasonable updates (6)

6: Programme
Decent effort, with a festive touch. Extra point for the effort from the editor to get it out. (8)

7: Game entertainment
A bit one-sided (5)

8: Tea Bar
Basic, but OK for the level (6)

9: Bar / Clubhouse

Limited drinks, but tons of memorabilia. Sports TV (7)

10: Club Shop
None (-)