Gorilla Man

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DSC02240Wednesday September 25th 2013, KO 19:45pm.
Southern Counties East League at Phoenix Sports Club, Barnehurst, Kent.
Phoenix Sports (Green/Black) 4-1 Fisher FC (BlackNWhite Stripes/White), att 98.
Admission 7 pounds, programme included with admission.
Bacon Roll 2.30.

Just occasionally one senses a club on the ‘up’ and tonight was one such occasion. Braving the M25 from my Slough office, I was rewarded with reasonable traffic flow, and arrival thirty minutes before kick off. It was soon clear that many other hoppers had also targeted this match as with slim pickings in the South East on a Wed night, and with reasonable public transport links, thirty or forty boosted the crowd on a mild evening.

I lived in mid Kent for six years between 2000 and 2006, and have a strong affection for the County. IMHO it has some the prettiest open and remote countryside of anywhere in the UK, with some lovely little coastal towns and villages to boot.
But North Kent is another area entirely, to my mind, once North of the M25, you are in essence really in South East London, one town flows into another, and the number of chimney pots and the traffic alone is enough to tell you that this is serious commuter belt land!

Phoenix already have numerous other clubs on their doorstep, quite literally in the case of VCD FC, who are just a couple of hundred yards down the road. Noisy neighbours Dartford, Welling United, not forgetting quite a few other clubs within a few miles. Phoenix, promoted as champions from the Kent Invicta league in 2013, are playing their first ever season at non league Step 5 in the newly named Southern Counties East League, which was previously known as the Kent Football league.
The league was ‘apparently’ changed to this name because a couple of the member clubs are just over the border in Surrey. But one does wonder what influence the FA had on this name change, as during their pyramid structure review this summer they tried to move a number of Sussex clubs into it from the Sussex County League. The clubs, unhappy, appealed, won their appeal and stayed put in the Sussex league. And so now we have a rather strangely named league that to all us old timers will remain in essence and spirit to us as ‘The Kent League’.

The Phoenix Sports Club is a tidy venue, on entry one is immediately to the left of one end behind the goal with the clubhouse and changing rooms situated there. A 100 seater stand is down the left touchline, which is raised slightly above pitch level, as is the hardstanding this side before the seated stand. The rest of the ground is flat standing, but they seem to have plenty of room for adding additional cover should the need arise in the future.

The club itself was originally founded in 1935 as St Johns Welling, changed it’s named to Lakeside, before renewing competition after WW2, and then calling themselves Phoenix FC. They have played in the Kent County League and the Spartan League in the past.
Visitors Fisher, now long term ground sharers at Dulwich Hamlet, have had a rocky recent past history. Suffice to say, it’s the normal story of mismanagement and financial over stretching that now sees them a long way from their Conference history when playing in its tidy little stadium by the bank of the river Thames near Canary Wharf. Once again, if it wasn’t for the passion of a small group of fans, it’s unlikely the club would still exist at all. Still apparently some good news on the horizon, it sounds like the chances of a new build ground virtually on the site of the old is likely to happen, which is great news if it does come to fruition as so few senior NL clubs now exist in Central London.

What I had not been expecting whilst hovering by tea bar for my bacon roll to be cooked pre-match, was a grown man to wander up in a full length gorilla outfit, wearing a nappy! The lady serving in the tea bar immediately seemed to recognise him, he must have very distinctive eyes I thought!
Anyway after discussing with a couple of hoppers I knew, apparently the Gorilla is/was? a member of the Social club, and was marrying at the weekend, and had been on a pre-stag weekend golf event in the afternoon, a large cluster of lads standing outside the clubhouse seemed to back this up.
Although in my experience I’ve come across few golf clubs that would allow a gorilla on the first tee. But I guess if he was wearing plus fours, and golf shoes at the time, perhaps they did? Paints a bizarre picture thought doesn’t it? 🙂

It was shortly after kick off, stood positioned opposite the stand, that Neil Witherow sauntered by. Erstwhile editor of the much missed Palace fanzine ‘Palace Echo’, I hadn’t seen Neil to chat to for a couple of years, so it was good to chew the fat with him, and hear he was re-completing “Inside the M25 tonight, from Step 5 and above”. Ah, ground hoppers and their little lists!
Neil still doesn’t miss Palace home/away, and has to be in the top twenty bracket of hardcore Palace fans, either the mans a fool or is dedicated beyond reason :), the truth I guess is somewhere in between.

Once the match settled down, it was clear that the performance of both teams merited their league positions. From Fisher, plenty of effort, but little end product. Noticeable amongst their five or six fans, one fella who every five or ten minutes shouted “Camm ahhn Fish”, like he was sitting by a riverbank urging a catch!
High flying Phoenix, although on the back of 5-1 thrashing at Whyteleafe the previous week, looked a very decent side indeed. Leading the line for them was an ex Palace youth player Andrew Dalhouse, converted from a centre back at Palace (thanks Neil for that), to a centre forward at Sports. His physical presence gave Fish problems throughout, and he opened the scoring after 34. Hope added a second on 43, in a pretty low-key first half. And any hope of a Fish come back in the second half was dashed by a double strike from new signing Miles Cornwell on 52 and 74 minutes.
The only reward for Fish was a deserved goal from hard working left winger Troy Abbey, after keeper Adam Woodward went walkabout. But frankly, Fish had been outclassed. And don’t be surprised if you see Phoenix rising again, and playing at Step 4 next season! And to be fair to them, on their sign on the side of the clubhouse, it didn’t say NO GORILLAS.

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