Mid-Season (very) Friendly – Cobham FC v Colliers Wood FC
Thursday, 3rd January 2013, 7.30pm
Leg O’Mutton Field
Distance 7 miles, Attendance 20 (approx)
In 1409 football was allegedly (I won’t pretend to be a historian) documented in English for the first time. To us round ball lovers this utterance should have been a truly momentous occasion but instead, King Edward IV was doing the dirty on us. Naturally this should make him a complete numpty but, in his haste to outlaw football he did succeed – albeit temporarily – where The Iron Lady would fail nearly 600 years later, so he can’t be all bad.
Thankfully – sometime between Eddie Four and Stand Down Margaret – Messrs Morley, Mulcaster, Thring and de Winton came to the rescue of our beautiful game (HURRAH!) and, because of their endeavours, from 1857 onwards real football clubs started popping up in Greater London, Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire.
Established in 1874 – sometime after the first London club Cray Wanderers FC, but way before every club currently in the top four divisions – Colliers Wood United ambled about the Wimbledon and Sutton leagues, before heading off to the Southern section of the Surrey Intermediate League. Whilst still actually playing in Colliers Wood they won the 1970 Surrey Senior League before moving to Wibbandune Sports Ground – beside the A3 – in 1991. The move signalled the start of an upturn in fortunes, with success in the 1992 Surrey Intermediate Cup, 1995 Surrey Premier League Challenge Cup, entrance to the Surrey Count Senior League in 2001, and finally promotion to Step 9 – the Combined Counties Premier Division – in 2004. Last season they were runners-up to Guernsey in the Combined Counties League Cup.
Yes, the parking is limited if one wants to park on the same side of the street as the pitch but, in finding the Wibbandune ground – which they rent from Merton – Colliers Wood found an almost perfect home. It has plenty of room for the pitch, a good club house and changing facilities, and is bordered by a host of other pitches which could be utilised for youth, reserves and training.
The pleasant rural setting is easily reached by road but, being situated between the heights of Wimbledon Common and a well built thoroughfare has positioned the pitch perfectly to act as a draining board for both. To resolve this – with the aid of a grant – not long ago the pitch was relayed however this was not an end to The Wood’s troubles. Drainage is still a huge issue; so much so that they cannot now play any more home matches (at home) until the problem is rectified. To resolve this means money; not the average weekly wage of a premiership footballer type money, but much more than an average Step 9 club has lying about.
Having consequently not played or even trained since December 15th – due to the weather – last night Cobham FC played The Wood in a friendly. Originally arranged to regain fitness, the hosts kindly decided to charge fans to watch and to donate the taking towards their temporary tenant’s plight.
The game itself was fairly non eventful. There was no programme, or team sheet, and the rolling substitutes and shirt changes made it some problematic keeping up with who was where on the playing surface. It was however a wonderful relaxed atmosphere where football supporters from the area dipped in their pockets – many over the asking price – to aid one of our country’s oldest clubs.
The first half saw some tidy midfield play; speedy wing attacks (from Eli in particular) and – not content to walk it into the net – strikers shooting from all angles. With defenders not wanting to get injured, tackles weren’t always fully committed but given this was training who could blame them. Cobham hit the woodwork three times and had the ball cleared off the line twice in the dying moments but after standing goalless at the break, Colliers Wood had fairly won 2-0 by final whistle.
Apart from one minor incident as the game drew to a close where – instigated by a clumsy collision – handbags were compared, the match was played in the right spirit. Both first half keepers pulled off some great saves, and players of note wore 3, 8, 9, and 11 for the home team and 3, 10, 11, and 16 for the visitors (no I don’t know). Throughout the game Cobham Chix trained on the far side of the pitch, whilst staff and fans mixed amiably near the clubhouse. Adding to the light-hearted atmosphere was a first half floodlight failure which – amid jokes of Oriental betting syndicates – was amusingly only corrected after supporters had all paid their entrance money.
Thankfully conversation in the stand (unlike 606) ambled around football without being judgemental. Groundhoppers talked of conquests; others analysed performance in this and other games. When THE pitch was mentioned, talk became almost conspiratorial; Colliers Wood’s future seems so unclear past successes and potential fund-raisers with former stars merge into one. “It breaks our hearts” one supporter informed me at the break. When we’re in danger of losing such history – whether a proud round ball lover or not – it breaks mine too.
Football hasn’t been outlawed this time but, driving out of the fantastically named Leg O’Mutton Field through a myriad of potholes, I was reminded of the perils that small clubs face navigating through our mod£rn game.
Can the pitch be fixed? Who will be football’s saviours this time? Could Merton Council change the perception (mine) that they don’t care much for football and help one of their clubs out? Will stars like Leon Britton and Steve Sidwell endorse fund-raising to support the club they started at? Only time will tell.