Tales From The Riverbank

Isthmian League Division 1 South – Walton Casuals FC v Whitehawk FC
Saturday, 31st December 2011, 1.30pm
The Waterside Stadium
Distance 7 miles, Attendance 137
The great thing about living in this part of the country, is that there’s an inordinate amount of football clubs nearby, so when domestic tragedy affects your sporting plans a replacement can always be found. The incredibly sad thing about living in this part of the country, is that most people seem foolishly blinkered by premier league nonsense. Having fallen for the former I was thus forced to hang out with the latter.

It’s been a few decades since casuals, in their tracksuited finery, had impacted on my New Year’s Eve, but then I haven’t always lived near the Casuals of Corinthian and Walton. Arriving at The Waterside Stadium just before kick-off was a stroke of luck, getting ninety minutes free of rain seemed remarkable given the recent weather. From outside the ground is easily missed but there on Waterside Drive on the banks of the Thames just before* Weir Haven, in a nondescript wooden fence, is an orange gate with post box attached. I’ve missed this place so many times, and the once when I did look over the fence from the Xcel car park there was no game on, but it’s clearly in need of renovation.
Walton is a small town in an attractive part of North Surrey and home to two football clubs; Walton Casuals FC and Walton & Hersham FC. Both play in the Isthmian League Division 1 South**. Their council, Elmbridge Borough, are very keen to develop the Waterside site and for the teams to ground share, this freeing up the latter’s home, Stompond Lane, for housing development. Walton & Hersham, I know from a recent hop, really aren’t keen, so I asked when I got inside the ground what the Stags’ stance was. “Two pitches, new stadium, no brainer” was the reply. This dilemma will find resolution soon, hopefully amicably, for these neighbours.

Back to the game and like the two Walton grounds most of the players just looked tired. On a windy bumping pitch this didn’t make for a great spectacle, but it was still live football and that will always be the main attraction for any real sports fan. The first major action of an untidy first half came on seven minutes when the ref requested a new whistle from one of his assistants. There followed a period when neither team seemed to take advantage of the other, and, even when through, chances were squandered. Even one of the better players on show, Hawk’s Kyle Vassell, managed to miss an open goal. His centre back, Sammi El-Had when away from marker Glenn Stanley also put in a strong half, and for the home team captain Craig Lewington showed some good ball control.
Craig’s father Ray once worked wonders at Watford during trying times, so I’d been hopeful he’d do well in this game. Other big names are familiar at The Waterside. Former Hammer Tony Gale is now Director of Football, and Neil Shipperly was recently the manager.
Thankfully for all the game improved after the break. The turning point was the arrival of Sam Gargan, a substitute for Whitehawk. Within two minutes he’d put the visitors ahead latching on to a Vassell cross. His second came fifteen minutes later with a close range header following a quick Hawks break and superb cross from Jerahl Hughes. This single strategic change was the clear difference between the two teams and from then on The Stags were undoubtedly second best.

Sam Gargan nets his, and Whitehawk's, second goal.

When you go to watch sport you always hope for the best; the best from the players and the best from the game. Walton Casuals didn’t show this, today, but like most non-league teams with greater local support they could go further. I don’t mean Local Authorities building grounds, but fans turning out to cheer on the teams. There were fans at The Waterside today but far too many seemed distracted by a televised game hundreds of miles away. I even saw one gentleman in club tracksuit (no I won’t say which team) watching the TV through the bar window whilst his team played a few yards away. Somehow it’s quite tragic how TV has turned people’s heads away from their local communities.
(*if going down stream, ** Ryman League in new money)
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