Two Tribes (almost)

London Senior Cup, 3rd Round – Tooting & Mitcham United FC v Beckenham Town FC
Tuesday, 20th November 2012, 7.45pm
Imperial Fields
Distance 9 miles, Attendance 150 (rough guess)
Desperate to make a breakthrough Malik Fofana sent a hopeful overhead kick back across the goal (yes Zlatan, yours was “hopeful” too). As the ball returned to earth, the defence stood, rooted to the spot, whilst Louis Sprosen – Matrix-like – strode purposefully through the frozen crowd and hammered it past the flailing Darren Bahcet. It was a sublime finish; any of us would’ve been proud of it. The home support sat stunned, the small away contingent leapt for joy, and I erased 80 minutes of careful planning and wondered what the hell I was going to write.
Due to a catalogue of unforeseen circumstances (and work) I’d ended up at game 5 on tonight’s wish list. Given my eventual departure time, any plans for Storrington, London Colney, Northwood, and Ascot United had all been postponed until some unknown future date, and instead I set off for a very familiar area of the capital.

Arriving at the impressive facilities of Imperial Fields, I took a quick photo tour before heading for the turnstiles. On the surrounding pitches games of all standards were taking place whilst signs warned of the language used by those players, coaches and supporters. If this one was to be obeyed it would certainly be a new experience.
Entering at the corner of the ground where amiable locals take your money and hand out programmes, the first sight is a rather novel Caribbean take away.  Bypassing this eatery, I circumnavigated the ground – through covered terracing behind each goal and the gents’ one can see the pitch from – en route to team sheet heaven at the back of the main stand.
Opting not to compete with the gentlemanly scrum before the window, I popped into a room filled with old programmes and the biggest rosette in the world, to find my Watford hat gained me special photographing privileges. “They’re my favourite league team” (by which I’m sure he meant “second”) claimed the announcer before handing me his clip board and team sheet.
Outside, whilst I was still wondering why the Home Officials sit behind the Away Dugout (and vice versa), the teams ran out. The team from the East fittingly wearing red; the team from the West starred in stripes; Two Tribes, going to war for a place in the 4th Round of a very old football cup.
First won in 1883 by Upton Park FC, the London Senior Cup has been played every year ever since (breaking only for WWI). Whilst visitors Beckenham Town have yet to make the final, Tooting & Mitcham United have won the cup six between 1943 and 2008. As for Upton Park FC – who ceased to be for the second time in 1911 – their name lives on in a Cup still competed for by local Channel Islands’ teams.
With the prize of an away trip to Imber Court, on a slippery surface the Terrors totally dominated the first half. It wasn’t that their shot count was extraordinarily high but their defence marshalled the Reds’ attack so comfortably that Beckenham rarely entered the home penalty area. Up the other end Anthony Bardon fired the first shot (on target) straight at the keeper, and Laurent Hamici’s follow up was deflected to safety. Tyrone Berry also had a fine effort saved, and then he and Marvin Farrell both put in fine crosses which strikers narrowly missed.
“Stop giving it away!” yelled one of the Red’s officials in front of me but, it was no use. On the pitch the visitors couldn’t string enough passes together to get a clear opening. The Terrors on the hand, demonstrated perfectly how to get forward and when the opener came, it involved four or five of their outfielders down the right. At the end of the fine passing move was Carl Wilson-Denis to fire the ball into the top of the net.
Going in ahead at half time should not have been a surprise to Tooting & Mitcham. They were better organised, stronger on the ball and – in Ryan Adams and Adam Thomson – have one of the best defensive partnerships I’ve seen all season. The biggest surprise for all came after a break in which I failed to see the famed boardroom carpet, but had managed a very pleasant exchange in the “old programme room” (or whatever it’s called) with a couple of the home support.
As the teams came out for the second period, the tea bar quickly shut its window for the night, the rain began to fall, and far too many people about me began discussing some blue team playing elsewhere. Out on the pitch, at OUR match, Beckenham – who’d hit six in the previous round – had morphed into an attacking force, whilst the Terrors began playing far too deep.
Alex Wilks was shining on both wings. Firstly his superb run down the right and low drive was missed by everyone in the goal mouth. Moments later he shot narrowly over, and then his cross was fortunately
deflected over by Adams. The longer the game went on, the more assured the performances of both Wilks and teammate Jason Rose became but, sadly for the visitors no equaliser could be found. Subs came and went, and again Wilks rushed a shot over the bar. “F**ING ‘ELL, ‘E COULDA GOTTA ‘ATRICK” came a despairing cry further down the stand. Whilst wanting to point out the language sign outside, it was hard not to disagree, especially when a further shot landed tamely in the keeper’s arms, followed quickly by another from Elstrom Die.
With ten minutes to go – whilst I was enjoying seeing a Bryan Flynn-sized sub on the pitch – Louis Sprosen’s superb strike tied the score. East was level with West, and all my Frankie Goes To Hollywood “one is all that you can score” puns melted into the cold night air. Though neither side made an impact, the Terrors realised they had a game on their hands decided to attack again.
With fans muttering of extra time and penalties, a rare (second half) attack sent a low cross through the visitors area. Jason Rose – heavily under pressure from the advancing strikers – slid in, determined to get the first touch. He made it just in time; preventing a shot on goal from either Tooting or Mitcham.
Turning back to see the ball into the far corner of his own net, Rose’s fate was sealed. He got up; head in hands. He’d done his utmost to defend but had tragically glanced the ball the wrong side of the post. After a good half for the Step 5 Beckenham it might have been a shame to lose in this manner, but the Terrors had in all fairness done plenty to warrant the win. The split of three goals really was about right.

Back in the car, the commentators were reaching a frenzied overdrive (a point just before self-combustion I hoped). A “BIG TEAM”, competing in a “BIG CUP” (which allows teams to get through to the next round despite losing games) had lost a game… HOW COULD THIS HAVE BEEN ALLOWED TO HAPPEN? As the self-possessed white noise drifted into the blah, blah, blah of Charlie Brown’s teacher I listened, I yawned, I dreamed of a proper lose-and-your-out cup. The next round was next week… Welcome To The London Senior Pleasure Dome Cup.
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