Tuesday April 24th, Kick off 18:30pm at the Spelthorne Sports Club.
The Combined Counties League Division One.
Spelthorne Sports 0-1 Staines Lammas, ht 0-1. Attendance 79.
I’m sure like many other ground hoppers, the carrot of a chance to tick off some grounds with early evening kick offs is much-anticipated. Obviously that window of opportunity is fairly limited with fixtures in early August and late April and early May giving a potential for a 3 or 4 week window to contemplate such games.
The major appeal of a 6pm or 6.30pm start is that one can return home with still a few hours ones evening left, rather than in the depths of winter when the norm of 19:45 KOs normally mean returning home at 22:30 or even 23:00 ish.
In days of old many or most clubs of Step 6 standard did NOT have lights, so there were plenty of fairly high level games to watch early/late season. Additionally unlike now, the FA were less strict in demanding leagues are completed before a certain date. Subsequently I have many happy memories of visiting games in the Combined Counties League well into May, quite often right to the end of the month. Now the opportunities are less available and often one has to dip into Step 7 and below for an early evening fix.
So, this game was high on my radar when I became aware of it some weeks previously. I only had two grounds left to visit in the 2 divisions of the Co Co, Spelthorne and South Kilburn FC. Then additionally, I still have about 6 clubs to visit for varying reasons, ground shares for Bookham/Badshot Lea/Warlingham/Mole Valley SCR for grounds I’d previously visited for other clubs, and then Farnham Town FC where I’d only watched a cup final perviously where Farnham were not involved (Note to self, to finish all these clubs in the 12-13 season).
Spelthorne is only about nine miles from my office near Slough, although this being the area around the M4/M25 and Heathrow a nine mile journey can take anywhere from 20 mins to 1 hr depending on local rush hour traffic. Thankfully on a bright evening and with my sat nav set to the ‘shortest’ back road route I’d pulled up in the car park at Spelthorne Sports Club just after 6pm.
Spelthorne is a local government district and borough in Surrey. It includes the towns of Ashford, Laleham, Shepperton, Staines, Stanwell and Sunbury. Boroughs adjacent to Spelthorne include Runnymede and Elmbridge in Surrey, the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, the London Borough of Hillingdon to the north, as well as the London Borough of Hounslow and the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames to the east. The borough is home to a number of large reservoirs, including Queen Mary, Staines and King George VI, all important bird reserves as is Staines Moor, designated an area of outstanding scientific interest. Kempton Park Racecourse and Shepperton Studios are both located in Spelthorne.
I’d originally thought this game would be targeted by hoppers as Spelthorne are playing their 1st season at NL level Step 6 in the Co Co league having won the Surrey Intermediate league in 10-11. So I was happy to bag a programme, and to notify the rather mystified lady on the gate that she might get a few ground hoppers tonight, clearly she had no idea what I meant. But in a short conversation with her she advised me that Guernsey had told them they were expecting a 4,000 gate the following Saturday for their fixture v the Sports, highly unlikely I thought as the Islanders although extremely well supported had averaged about 1300 this season (at it turned out 1100 were in attendance!).
Anyway, as is usual for this league (and particularly this division), a gate of over 100 is considered very good, over 50 is ok, unless of course Guernsey are in town, where this season gates have been doubled for their visit, sometimes trebled. Apparently 79 attended, pretty healthy, and it was very obvious that at least half of those were hoppers.
In the first half I stood opposite the small rather tatty stand, and fell into conversation with the fella next to me who turned out to be the father of Sports captain and midfield player Jamie Read. Seemingly Jamie was on the way down the NL ladder at 28, having previously played for Leatherhead and Met Police. His big day in the sun having been for Leatherhead at Torquay in the cup some years back. He certainly did look their most accomplished player and you could tell he’d played slightly higher up. Sadly for Sports they conceded a silly goal in the 25th minute, after keeper Harry Church dallied on the ball, was then caught in possession by Lammas No 9 Tony Hadley, who whilst laying on the ground having tackled Church hooked the ball into the net from about 15 yards out. Certainly a ‘gold’ (en) goal for the famously named striker 🙂 . Jamie Read senior was not impressed “For f*cks sake Harry”, then as an aside to me who said he’d been guilty of that sort of thing pretty regularly earlier in the season.
The First half had been pretty even, if anything Sports having more of the attacking play, but their end product had been poor. At half time I took advantage of the tea hatch for a cuppa and bumped into Steve Jackson, a local hopper from Stanwell and I stood with Steve for the second half to chew the fat about all things footy and ale!
The second half was similar to the first in that Sports dominated the play, created quite a number of chances but always the keeper or the post came to the rescue for Lammas. The programme notes highlighted the fact that Sports in their first season at this level had seriously struggled in their local games all season, and this was to ring true again, as Lammas held out for the one nil win, on what had been a decent evening weather wise, in most enjoyable company.