Sunday, 2 August 2020

Guru Nanak 1 Sporting Bengal 3

Match 01/20/1804 - Saturday, 1st August 2020 - Pre-Season Friendly

Guruk Nanak (0) 1
Sporting Bengal (0) 3
Headcount: 75
New Ground: 343

Admission: Free
Programme: None
Mileage: 50/50

When I walked away from Concord Rangers on 14th March, although fully aware of the seriousness of the Covid-19 outbreak, I and a think many others, were not quite expecting it to be 19 weeks before I stepped inside a football ground again. And for those without an interest in Step 7 football, it could be another eight weeks before they take similar first steps.

The loss of live football has been just a minor irritation in the great scheme of things as, I’m sure, everybody knows someone who has died; someone who has lost their job or someone who has seen their business close. For those of us who didn’t experience the Second World War this has been the strangest, most harrowing times of our lives and we are far, far away from being out of the woods.

German football led the way in staging Bundesliga matches behind closed doors and, armed with that knowledge, the Premier League managed to convince the Government that the same could be done here and so we embarked on a 90-odd day feast of televised football in which even the BBC were allowed to partake. Despite the fact that Liverpool had all but won the Premier League prior to lockdown it was fun, but although the canned crowd noise belied the empty stadiums, it was no substitute for the real thing whether you are used to watching your football with 75,000 inside Old Trafford or 75 at Guru Nanak.

And so it was a week previously that it became apparent that under the present set of the revised guidelines, spectators would be allowed to take their places at Step 7 or as the Government labelled it, Grassroots Football. The Pre-Season fixture lists were immediately scanned and there were a couple of opportunities relatively locally, one of which, Guru Nanak, offering a new ground to visit was an obvious choice.

Saturday morning felt the same as any first Pre-Season Saturday which normally would have been just four weeks but the length of time of this off-season was highlighted as the collection of my football paraphernalia showed the camera to have a flat battery! But there was an excitement as the car pulled off the drive, I was on my way to a match. A traffic hold-up at the top of Bluebell Hill saw me anxiously watching the time of arrival tick dangerously close to kick-off but this just added to moment.

Guru Nanak, of the Kent County League Division One Central and East played host to Sporting Bengal of the Essex Senior League, and to be fair and considering the normal nature of a Pre-Season Friendly, produced a really decent game with one or two individuals from both sides catching the eye with a quality that wasn’t really expected of Step 7 football.

After a goalless first two periods of 30 minutes in which both goalkeeper excelled with Sporting Bengal’s custodian saving a twice-taken penalty after 15 minutes, the visitors took the lead after 61 minutes with a penalty of their own. Bengal doubled their advantage after 75 minutes when their winger cut in from the left and buried a shot into the far corner. Guru Nanak were awarded another opportunity from the spot with a minute to go which they converted but Bengal still had time to restore their two goal win in time added.

Guru Nanak’s Khalsa Avenue ground offers the most stunning of backdrops with the imposing Sikh Temple and has a small seated area with three sides having hard standing and the other roped off. Apart from the backdrop they were humble surroundings but for the football-starved it was a veritable feast.

Thursday, 18 June 2020

Fond memories of the Class of 2017

It wasn’t the most earth shattering piece of news especially in these strange times but, for me, it marked the end of particular period of time that will be looked back with immense fondness.

The announcement of the departure of Liam Smith saw the last member of the brilliant Under-18 squad of 2017 leave the club, although Dominic Welsh might have an argument that as an Academy coach and Under-16 manager he continues to be part of the club.

The Youth Team of 2016 marked a significant transition for me. Although I have been a lifetime supporter of Tonbridge, long before they were Angels, for over 40 years they had shared my allegiance with Gillingham.

In April of 2016, I was made redundant from my job with The Stationery Office where I had worked a night shift for the past 20 years and with my 65th birthday only two months away, I pretty much decided that retirement beckoned.

In common with most night shift workers in the print trade my working week was four nights and I had specifically chosen Tuesday night as my night off for footballing reasons so Monday evenings had pretty much been a non-starter.

Freshly armed with my newly-acquired freedom I ventured to Longmead for a Ryman Under-18 League game against Raynes Park Vale. I've always enjoyed football at this age group, playing at being a scout and seeing a player who you think might just make it and having a smug sense of achievement when that player moves upwards successfully. But over the years this had been almost entirely Gillingham with South East Counties on a Saturday morning and the odd FA Youth Cup run.

In the Tonbridge side that night, and looking the outstanding player of the group, was Tashi-Jay Kwayie who gave the Angels an early lead. The game ended in a 2-2 draw and I left the ground thinking that this was part of retirement that I could get used too!

I’ve been a blogger for about 14 years with my That’ll Be The Day blog that covers games I attend and my presence on the rails with my little red notebook in hand hadn’t escaped attention at Longmead and my first entry for the Under-18’s received more page views than usual.

Liam Smith came to my notice in unusual circumstances in the next game against Maidstone United when he performed admirably between the sticks after the Tonbridge goalkeeper had been sent off.

My transition back to Tonbridge after many years on loan at Gillingham had already begun as I had given up the away travelling and more than 50% of the games I watched were with the Angels. But it was with the youngsters that the club really started to get under my skin.

As is the norm with youth football, the vast majority of the spectators are the families of the players and a man (with a red notebook) that has no attachment to any of the team probably stuck out like a sore thumb but my blog writing had not gone amiss and people, Liam’s Mum and Dad (Brian and Sandra) among them, expressed their gratitude for the coverage.

The new season, 2016-17 began and a 5-0 win over Ashford with Sid Sollis catching the eye whetted the appetite for a run in the FA Youth Cup and by now I was on better than nodding acquaintance with some of the parents that made up this close-knit family.

Phoenix Sports were despatched courtesy of a Sollis hat-trick and, in the Second Qualifying Round, Dover were similarly brushed aside with Smith being among the scorers.

By now this side were well and truly under my skin and an away game at Ashford was followed by an epic, if ultimately heartbreaking, game against Maidstone in the FA Youth Cup that finished 5-5 after extra time with the visitors, managed by Tom Parkinson, taking the penalty shoot-out 6-5. It was a sensational game, probably one of the best I’ve ever seen at Longmead.

The families were no longer surprised to see me turning up at places like Ramsgate and Chipstead with the Mitchells, Fentons, Smiths and Chapmans so welcoming and manager Jay Stubberfield added an extra dimension to the blog entries by texting me quotes following the game. The Under-18’s were going from strength to strength, not only were they heading the table but Jack Fenton, Dominic Welsh, Sid Sollis, Callum Taylor, and of course, Liam Smith were spending time with the first team, either in training or taking their places on the bench in some of the minor cup competitions.

At Merstham in mid-January 2017 a cup game was abandoned at half-time for a frozen pitch and, biased opinion maybe, I caught a glimpse of a player that would challenge Liam as the best player in the league that season, Rhys Norrington-Davies. Going back to my enjoyment of playing at being a scout, the lad was outstanding even on an impossible pitch. Later that year, my credentials were confirmed as he signed for Sheffield United! But Liam still edged the League's best player!

And talking of the cold, the evening at Chipstead also comes to mind when the entire attendance decamped at half-time to the clubhouse to escape for 15 minutes from the numbing cold.

Merstham ran shoulder to shoulder with the Angels and Maidstone for the Championship and a draw at Maidstone when Smith, Sollis and Taylor were unavailable through first team duty left the door ajar which Merstham kicked open when they beat Tonbridge 4-2.

Another draw with Maidstone at Longmead left the door wide open for Merstham who only needed to win one of their last two games to secure the title.

On an April night at Whyteleafe the emotion of how much this group had taken hold of me was encapsulated with a bitterly disappointing low as the Lucas Fettes Cup Final was lost to Whitehawk before news came through that Merstham, who had wasted their first opportunity with a draw against Maidstone, had only managed another draw against Ashford, leaving our lads with the title in their hands should they win their last game against Kingstonian at Banstead Athletic.

The evening got off to an inauspicious start, going behind to a second minute own goal and for half-an-hour it looked like the occasion had got the better of the lads with passing wayward and the front two of Jack Cussen and Guy Taylor, in the absence of the suspended Sollis, were suffering from a severe lack of service. But, after 34 minutes, a defence splitting pass from Tommy Chapman set up Cussen for the equaliser and just before the break, Chapman drilled a free kick home. An early second half goal from Jack Bray set the party in motion and Liam Smith wrapped it up in the final minute.

The faces of disappointment as they looked on at Whyteleafe a week previously were now replaced with joy as they celebrated in a similar fashion and then something really special happened that caught me by surprise but will forever remain in the memory and sealed my transition away from Gillingham. As the celebratory team photographs were being taken, I was summoned to join the group. At first I was reluctant, this was their moment and I was a mere spectator, but Jack Fenton's Dad Graham encouraged me forward saying that I deserved the honour. The photograph, framed, was presented to me at the Champions of Champions Semi-Final and, to this day, has a pride of place in my study.

Revenge was to be had against Whitehawk on that evening, but further Cup Final heartache was endured as the Final was lost against Metropolitan Police at Tooting.

My season ticket at Gillingham was not renewed that summer and later that year I stood, and was elected to the board of Tonbridge Angels, a proud moment. But I swear none of this would have taken place had it not been for the Class of 2017!

Sunday, 15 March 2020

Concord Rangers 3 Tonbridge Angels 3

Match 81/19/1803 - Saturday, 14th March 2020 - National South

Concord Rangers (3) 3 Babalola 17 Sheriff 21 Blanchfield 45+1
Tonbridge Angels (2) 3 Greenhalgh 14 Wood 44 Bray 90+4
Attendance: 702

Admission: Free
Programme: £3
Mileage: 108/6,303

If this is to be the season's end, then it's a good way to go out. The Coronavirus outbreak had already suspended the Premier League season and it was a frankly baffling decision from the National League to continue for, perhaps, one last Saturday.

A goal with virtually the last touch of the match ensured Tonbridge took a point home from Canvey Island and on whatever method the National League decide to formulate the table to end the season, outside of playing again, it is enough to ensure their safety.

Tonbridge took the lead after 14 minutes when the Concord Rangers defence failed to clear a cross to safety. The ball fell to Ben Greenhalgh who from the left hand angle of the box drove into the bottom corner.

Celebration was short-lived, however, as the visitors found themselves 2-1 down within seven minutes. First, a cross from the left found the unchallenged head of Temi Babalola to equalise. On 21 minutes, a mistake in the middle of the pitch by James Folkes allowed Decarrey Sheriff a run on goal. After rounding Jonny Henly, he appeared to have closed down his angle but finished well into the open goal.

The Angels pressed on, and after half-an-hour, Alex Bentley struck the woodwork.

Tommy Wood equalised for the Angels with a minute left on the clock when Khale Da Costa's effort rebounded off a defender into the path of the on-loan striker who cooly finished despite the strong protests of the home defenders for an offside decision.

But the visitors were not to enter the dressing room on level terms as a cross into the box led to scrambled attempts to clear the ball to safety but ended with back heel from close range by James Blanchfield.

Tonbridge started the second half on the front foot but chances for both sides were now at a premium rather than the profligate first period with the best effort from Da Costa going narrowly wide.

But the game drifted towards its conclusion with neither side particularly holding the momentum going into the closing minutes.

As we entered the last of four minutes added time, Tonbridge won a free kick which ended with the ball at substitute Jared Small's feet. His cross to the far post was headed back across the face of goal by Sonny Miles to the towering head of fellow central defender Rian Bray whose header was greeted with delirium by the Tonbridge support behind the goal.

Rather unsavoury incidents followed as neither side covered themselves with much glory in the aftermath of the goal and the final whistle but the game which had been largely exciting and well fought and shouldn't be remembered for those moments of lost heads.

The afternoon had a surreal feel and until we meet again, don't know where, don't know when, stay healthy.

Lifetime match total: 3,055
Number of grounds: 342

Friday, 13 March 2020

Glebe 2 Tunbridge Wells 3

Match 80/19/1802 - Thursday, 12th March 2020 - SCEFL Premier

Glebe (2) 2 Lake 20 Philpot 30
Tunbridge Wells (1) 3 Day 7 Lawal 56,78
Attendance: 131

Admission: £4
Programme: £1
Mileage: 64/6,195

As the postponements continue to rack-up for Tunbridge Wells, this hastily re-arranged game offered mid-week semi-professional football, a pleasure barely enjoyed since Christmas. And the game at least served as a reminder to what was missing. A cold night needed a decent game and both sides contributed to forgetting the cold biting at the extremities. The Wells recovered from going 2-1 down after taking an early lead to win the game with an extraordinary goal from Chris Lawal, whose 50 yard free kick from the left hand touchline sailed over the goalkeeper's head and into the net.

Wednesday, 11 March 2020

Corinthian 4 Leighton Town 3

Match 79/19/1801 - Saturday, 7th March 2020 - FA Vase Quarter Final

Corinthian (0) 4 Billings 7 Tanner 11 Bath 75 Oloyede 90
Leighton Town (0) 3 Webb 9 Campbell 47,65
Attendance: 351

Admission: £3
Programme: Sold out
Mileage: 50/6,131

Match Report

Dover Athletic 0 Tonbridge Angels 2

Match 78/19/1800 - Wednesday, 4th March 2020 - National Academies Alliance

Dover Athletic (0) 0
Tonbridge Angels (0) 2
Headcount: 16

Admission: Free
Programme: None
Mileage: 46/6,081

Dulwich Hamlet 0 Tonbridge Angels 1

Match 77/19/1799 - Saturday, 29th February 2020 - National League South

Dulwich Hamlet (0) 0
Tonbridge Angels (0) 1 Turner 86
Attendance: 2,663

Admission: Free
Programme: £3
Mileage: 90/6,035

Football has the marvellous ability to rise above the shit that surrounds it and after a week of heartache there was a glimpse of light at the end of a very black tunnel.

Tonbridge’s pitch problems have been widely reported and there would not have been a single person among their supporters that had not put two and two together and realised that a club that had virtually no income from home matches would be struggling to make ends meet.

A frank statement from the chairman, Dave Netherstreet had spelt out the perilous position the club faced and a plea for help to its owners as a community club and supporters had been made, and thankfully had brought some instant results in terms of cash both received and pledged.

It was almost ironic that the following game would be a trip to Dulwich Hamlet, a club that has had to pass around the bucket themselves on previous occasions.

The elements also served up their own reminder as Storm Jorge produced a howling gale, squally showers, a bit of hale topped off with a glimpse of sunshine.

In National League South terms an absolutely massive crowd had assembled with the Dulwich hipsters a vision of perpetual motion as they wandered to and fro the bars, their hands full of craft beer and expensive, a la carte burgers.

Nobody could dress the game up as a classic, the elements did not allow that, but Tonbridge supporters were sent home with an 86th minute winner when Joe Turner buried a shot into the bottom corner. Tonbridge fans greeted the goal and final whistle with delirium whilst the Dulwich hipsters barely shrugged a shoulder and went back to the bar for another round, so everybody went home happy!

It was a brief moment of happiness, no doubt a pitch inspection on Tuesday will signal yet another postponement and reality will kick in once more. But, on the pitch, with virtually every game being played away from home, Steve McKimm has moulded a side that is resilient and is putting enough points on the table to put National League safety not too far away.