This is the 2nd part of an article I posted a few days ago. In the first part, I examined why no African team has ever won the World Cup. In this second part, I will look at what African teams can do to improve their chances of winning the World Cup.
Teams Without an Identity
Brazil has Joga Bonito or “Samba Football”, Italy has Catenaccio, Holland has Total Football, Spain has “Tiki-Taka”, and win, lose, or draw; the relentless pressure fighters of Argentina, Mexico, and Uruguay always engage their opponents in a 90 minute long street fight. Many European and South American teams have an institutionalised pattern of play which endures regardless of changes in coaching and playing personnel.
Which African team has a clearly articulated and visible pattern of play that is synonymous with them? None. An African team’s paying style usually lasts as long as the current coach is in charge and changes as soon as a new coach is appointed.
This lack of an identifiable playing style also gives fuel to European “expert” football pundits who fill our TV time with gormless “They have lots of pace and power” narratives about every single African team – even if half of the team are 5’6 tall plodding anorexics.
The teams who have won the World Cup in the last 25 years possessed two attributes: (1) a pattern of play that was drilled into their players from childhood; and (2) a national elite coaching centre where the country’s best young players were trained and which acted as an “Ivy League” school for the country’s best footballers. African countries have neither.
France’s football academy at Clairefontaine trained several of the players that were in its squads that reached the 1998, 2006, and 2018 World Cup finals. 7 players that that played for Spain in the 2010 World Cup final were graduates of Barcelona’s famed La Masia football academy (Carles Puyol, Gerard Pique, Segio Busquets, Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta, Pedro, and Cesc Fabregas).
African teams do not have a carved in stone pattern of play because of three reasons:
1) Most African countries do not have football coaching centres of excellence like France’s Clairefontaine; where an institutionalised playing ethos can be implanted into young players;
2) Their insistence on hiring European coaches; and
3) African football academies are businesses committed to producing players that can be sold to the highest European bidder, rather than for producing national team players.
Outside Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, and South Africa, most African football clubs and leagues are either owned by the government, or by private businesses that use them as a vanity project. Wall to wall coverage of the English Premier League, La Liga, and the Bundesliga means that local TV broadcasters prioritise spending lots of money on buying TV rights to European football leagues, and invest less in their own leagues. European clubs can invest these vast revenues into their academies and into producing the footballers of tomorrow. Conversely, most African football clubs do not have the commercial revenues to engage in such projects. The end result is that most African football fans fervently follow and watch European football teams on TV, and have never watched their local hometown club (if that club is even on TV). This prioritisation of Europe is not limited to TV coverage.
Most African national teams are managed by European coaches. However, an expatriate European coach who does not speak any languages of the African country he coaches, and who is on a short-term contract, does not have the time or incentive to institutionalise a consistent style of play that will survive him. Only indigenous coaches who understand the culture and mentality of their players can drill the players to consistently play one way that best suits the players.
It is scandalous that African FAs do not place more faith in their indigenous coaches; especially as the most fluid and well drilled African team of this century had an indigenous coach. On January 29, 2004 Egypt lost an Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) match 1-2 to their north African rivals Algeria. This was significant because Egypt did not lose another AFCON match for the next 15 years. Egypt won three successive AFCON championships. The coach who led this unprecedented era of success was Hassan Shehata. Shehata’s achievement was all the more impressive because Egypt’s era of dominance overlapped with Ivory Coast’s “Golden Generation” of Drogba, the Toure brothers, Salomon Kalou, and Gervinho. Egypt emphatically beat that brilliant Ivory Coast team twice during that winning AFCON sequence.
That (pre-Mohammed Salah) Egyptian team had the discipline and tactical sophistication to make an impact at the World Cup. It was the most organised team in Africa between 2006-2010. To some extent Egypt was the “Spain of Africa” during that era. Like Spain (who relied on a core of Barcelona players), the core of Egypt’s squad was also drawn from one team: the serial African champions Al-Ahly (Africa’s equivalent of Real Madrid). Al-Ahly won the African Champions League 5 times in the 8 years between 2005 and 2013. About 8-9 members of Egypt’s treble AFCON winning team played for that brilliant Al-Ahly team (such as Mohammed Aboutrika, Essam al-Hadary, Mohammed Shawky, Wael Gomaa, Ibrahim Said, Mohammed Barakat, Emad Motaeb, and Hossam Hassan). Egypt could do this because Al-Ahly was that rarest of African teams: a rich team, with a massive fanbase, that could pay its players enough to keep its squad together and prevent them from migrating to Europe.
To some extent, this World Cup is Africa’s most prolific World Cup as African teams have won a record 8 games; including victories over world champions France, Brazil, Belgium (who finished third at the last World Cup), and Spain. Every single African team won at least one game, and Cameroon and Tunisia were unfortunate to be eliminated despite losing only 1 game. It is pertinent that this success came at a time when all 5 African countries appointed indigenous coaches to lead them at the World Cup. Morocco’s current coach Walid Regragui was appointed only 3 games before the World Cup started. He coached Wydad Casablanca to win the African Champions League before taking the national team job.
“Naïve” African Teams
European football commentators are fond of describing African teams as “naïve”. Although it is tempting to dismiss this as patronising European references to Africa, the truth hurts. African teams’ results at the World Cup tell only a partial story. The manner in which African teams lose is very illuminating. African teams have perfected the art of playing better than the opposition but still losing the game. There is a 32 year long catalogue of African teams grasping defeat from the jaws of victory with brain fart calamities at critical times.
When businesses conclude a deal that went badly, or have a year where profits dip; they usually conduct a retrospective review to discover why, and to prevent its reoccurrence. African football teams should do the same:
- Cameroon v England (1990) – with only 7 minutes left, Cameroon was 2-1 up against England and on the verge of being the first African team to reach the World Cup semi-final. Instead of shitting up shop, Cameroon continued attacking, gave away two clumsy penalties, and lost the game 3-2.
- Nigeria v Italy (1994) – Nigeria was 1-0 up against Italy in the 90th minute and on the verge of reaching he quarter-final in its first World Cup appearance. Then lost concentration in the last minute, conceded a late equaliser to Roberto Baggio, then conceded a penalty in extra time to 10 man Italy and lost 2-1.
- Ghana v Uruguay (2010) – Although the public has made Luis Suarez the villain of this game, as Suarez has pointed out; it was not him who missed the crucial penalty for Ghana with the last kick of the game. Even after Suarez stop a goalbound Ghana shot on the line with his hands, the game was still in Ghana’s hands. They were facing a Uruguay team that was down to 10 men and without its star striker. Ghana also had the additional advantage of a penalty with the last kick of the game, and could have killed off Uruguay instantly by converting the penalty – since there was no time left for Uruguay to equalise. Instead, Asamoah Gyan blazed the penalty against the crossbar, the game went to penalties, and Ghana contrived to lose the game from a position where it seemed impossible.
- At the 2018 World Cup, there was an astonishing sequence of African teams conceding winning (for the opposition) goals in the dying minutes of games. African teams conceded goals in the 95th (twice), 91st (twice again), 90th, , 86th, 78th, and 74th minutes. Conceding 8 goals in the last 15 minutes of the game in the group phase alone, is so alarming that it points to something fundamentally wrong with African teams.
There are two primary reasons (one visible and the other insidious) that explain why African teams are susceptible to late goals. I will examine these in the next part of this series.
Spoiler alert: if you want to read an article about African football featuring the archetypal video footage of barefoot African children playing on a bobbly dusty pitch, or an African player talking about his poverty stricken upbringing – stop reading now! There will be none of that here. Conversely, if you want to read an article about African football with deep analysis, revealing historical insights, and lots of information you probably do not know – then keep reading…
African players can take the blame and the credit for proving the greatest player of all time wrong, every day of the week for the past 22 years. When Pele made his now infamous prediction that an African country would win the World Cup before the year 2000, it did not seem bizarre. Yet, 22 years after 2000, not only has no African country won the World Cup, no African country has reached the quarter-finals since 2010. Even Asia has progressed further than Africa as South Korea reached the semi-final 20 years ago.
African countries have produced some of the World Cup’s most iconic moments: such as Cameroon stunning world champions Argentina on the opening day of the 1990 tournament, and Cameroon were only 7 minutes away from beating England and reaching the semi-final before two Gary Lineker penalties eliminated Cameroon.
Then came Rashidi Yekini’s spine tingling celebration after scoring Nigeria’s first ever World Cup goal in 1994:
History repeated again in 2002 when the late Papa Bouba Diop’s goal helped Senegal beat world champions France on the opening day of the 2002 tournament, before Senegal reached the quarter-final:
Ghana also emulated Cameroon and Senegal in 2010 when it also reached the quarter-final.
As a bonus I have also included a video of gratuitous violence: Benjamin Massing of Cameroon’s tackle on Argentina’s Claudio Cannigia in 1990 that resembled a gangland contract hit more than a tackle on a sports field:
Despite these presumed breakthrough moments, why have African teams not been able to transition from creating entertaining memories at the World Cup to actually winning it?
It cannot be a lack of talent. The best player in the Premier League is an African, several African players have won the Champions League, and African players currently play for the champions of England, Germany, France, Italy, and Portugal. Ironically, African football teams became less successful at the World Cup when their individual players’ profiles hit at an all time high.
Those who like simple, binary solutions should look away now! There is no single reason why no African country has won the World Cup. Instead, there are many. For ease of reference, I have grouped them into things that are the fault of African countries, and things outside their control.
If there was a manual on how to sabotage a national football team, many African football associations would be best selling authors of it. Time and time again, African FAs have created poisonous relations with their footballers (who are accustomed to first class superstar treatment while playing for their European clubs) by getting into bonus rows with players, not arranging adequate accommodation or training facilities for players, or interfering with the coach’s job by forcing him to pick or drop players he does not want to. Although I could write an entire book about African FAs, I will spare you that and limit myself to the worst examples of corrupt incompetence by African FAs.
At the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, a row between Ghana’s football association and players over unpaid bonuses led Ghana’s layers to threaten to boycott and forfeit their final group game against Portugal. The row became so incendiary that it was resolved only when Ghana’s President John Dramani Mahama intervened and arranged for $3 million in cash to be flown by a private jet from Ghana to the players in Brazil, then delivered to them by cars under police escort just before the Portugal game. Some of the players kept $100,000 in cash in their bags in the dressing room. An embarrassing photo of Ghana player John Boye kissing a large bundle of cash after receiving his bonus payment went viral online.
The reader may wonder why a multi-millionaire professional footballer cares about what they get paid for playing for their country, and consider them as greedy. There are at least two reasons why bonus payments matter to African footballers. Firstly, bonus payments to African players often get siphoned off and shared amongst a host of hangers attached to the national team, FA, and government. Players feel cheated when others take money that was earned by them putting their bodies on the line while playing for their country. Secondly, African players are also subject to financial commitments and pressures that the average European player will never encounter. While a European star player usually uses his fortune to provide for his wife and proverbial 2.4 children, a star African player is also expected to provide for his parents, siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles, extended family, people from his hometown, and also be a philanthropist. Current and retired African footballers such as Sadio Mane, Samuel Eto’o, Didier Drogba, and Nwankwo Kanu have contributed vast sums of money to building and funding hospitals, schools, and charities in their countries.
The Coaching Turnstile
Keeping track of African national team coaches is an exercise in observing turnstile vacancies appear and disappear.
A favourite tactic of African FAs is to appoint a coach 3-4 years before the World Cup. The coach usually builds a rapport with the players, implements his tactics and pattern of play, and qualifies his team for the World Cup and Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON). Due to the AFCON’s scheduling, it usually occurs about 6 months before the World Cup. If said coach does not win the AFCON, his FA usually fires him, and appoints a new coach who then comes in and rips up the tactical blueprint and formation that the prior coach used and drilled the players in during the previous 4 years. The poor players then have to play in a new unaccustomed system, for a coach they do not know, while simultaneously dealing with the small matter of facing the best teams in the world at the World Cup. Even the much heralded Morocco team at this World Cup is playing for a coach (Walid Regragui) who was appointed 3 months before the World Cup started. Regragui managed Morocco in only 3 matches before the World Cup started.
Nigeria is a notorious example in this regard. Nigeria has qualified for the World Cup on 6 different occasions. Yet only 3 times has the coach who led the qualifying campaign also led the team to the World Cup. In 1998, 2002, and 2010, the Nigerian Football Federation (NFF) fired the coach 6 months or less before the World Cup started, and Nigeria went to the World Cup to play the likes of Argentina, Croatia, Denmark, and England with a coach who had met the players only a few times before the World Cup.
As if these prior examples were not enough, after qualifying for this year’s AFCON and reaching the final round of qualifying for this year’s World Cup, the NFF essentially sabotaged its own team by firing Nigeria’s coach who had made progress with the team during the past 5 years just before the AFCON. The outcome was ugly. Nigeria (which had reached at least the semi-final of the AFCON 14 times in 17 tournaments) crashed out of the AFCON in the 2nd round to a very average Tunisia team, and then failed to score a goal from open play in 180 minutes of football against an also average Ghana team in their World Cup qualifying play-off; culminating in Nigeria’s failure to qualify for the World Cup for only the second time in 28 years.
Most African countries have an incredible number of ethnic groups and languages, and multiple religious and other sectarian divides that make Northern Ireland, Israel v Palestine, and Celtic v Rangers seem like polite dinner parties. For example, over 800 languages (over 10% of all languages in the world) are spoken in Cameroon and Nigeria alone. Convincing the public that the national team coach selected players purely on merit, and without ethnic or religious bias; is a delicate act with massive ramifications that can affect national stability. It is much easier to employ a European coach with no local ethnic or religious loyalties (or axes to grind) in the African country he coaches, since he cannot be accused of ethnic bias. The logic is sound, but the execution is not.
Employing European coaches would be justifiable if African FAs hired the next Ferguson or Guardiola. However, for some head scratching reason they hire utterly dire journeyman D level European coaches. For example, Nigeria’s striker Victor Osimhen spent the last few years being coached at Napoli by a knowledgeable tactician like Luciano Spalletti, then showed up to national team duty to be coached by a German coach called Gernot Rohr who had never managed in a top four European league or won a trophy, and who got the Nigerian team job after winning nothing with Gabon, Niger, and Burkina Faso.
Appointing a coach without elite experience to coach a squad of European based superstars at the World Cup, is probably not going to end well.
Snakes and Ladders
None of Africa’s five best players is at this World Cup. Apart from Sadio Mane who is out injured, Mohammed Salah (Egypt), Riyad Mahrez (Algeria), Victor Osimhen (Nigeria), and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Gabon) are fit, but not playing at this World Cup because their countries did not qualify. The reasons for that lie in the most gruelling and laborious World Cup qualification system in the world.
It is actually easier to qualify for the World Cup in Europe than in Africa. In Europe seeding generally keeps teams apart, and most decent countries can rack up cricket scores in qualifying games against mighty footballing giants like Andorra, Gibraltar, San Marino, Liechtenstein, and the Faroe Islands (some of whom have won only 1-2 games from the last 200 they have played). Of the 32 teams in the World Cup, about half are from Europe, and about 50% of teams in South America’s CONMEBOL confederation automatically qualify for the World Cup (in South America – it is almost harder not to qualify for the World Cup!).
In contrast, until the 1998 World Cup, Africa got to send only 1, 2, or 3 teams to the World Cup. FIFA now allots only 5 World Cup places for Africa’s 54 countries. This means that 90% of African national teams cannot qualify for the World Cup.
African World Cup cut-throat snakes and ladders qualifiers are almost designed to ensure that Africa’s best teams never make it to the World Cup.
To whittle 54 countries down to 5, African football has a byzantine and exhausting three step qualification process. The first step is a two-legged knockout round. The winners from this round then advance to a group phase (of 10 groups). In Europe and South America, finishing top of a qualifying group means automatic qualification for the World Cup, whereas in Africa; it merely introduces a new way of being eliminated. Only the winners of each African qualifying group advance to the third round; which again reverts to a knockout cup format. The paucity of slots for African teams at the World Cup makes African World Cup qualifying extremely competitive and cut-throat, with zero margin for error. The knockout games render the top teams vulnerable to shocks/upsets, and ensure that the best teams do not make it to the World Cup. Rarely are the 5 African World Cup qualifiers the best 5 teams in Africa because the top African teams often get placed in the same group.
Because Africa has only 5 World Cup places, its countries end up in “Celebrity Death Match” groups against each other. The excellent and fluid Egyptian team that won the AFCOn 3 times in a row between 2006 and 2010 were grouped with their fierce rivals Algeria in the qualification campaign for the 2010 World Cup. In the final group qualification match, Egypt had to beat group leaders Algeria by at least two goals in a north African knockout derby. Those who are interested can read here for the background to the Egypt-Algeria rivalry.
The game was played in in front of a frenzied crowd of 100,000 and was so tense that the governments of both countries threatened diplomatic action against each other. Egypt won after scoring a 95th minute goal that sparked a pitch invasion.
Yet, that victory was still not enough for Egypt to qualify for the World Cup. Egypts win left them tied with Algeria on points, goal difference, and head-to-head results! The two teams therefore had to play a third tie-breaker play-off game on neutral territory (in Sudan!). Algeria caused an upset when they beat Egypt – meaning that perhaps the best African team of this century never played at the World Cup.
One of the qualifying groups for the last World Cup had Algeria, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Zambia. That group consisted of 4 of the last 5 African champions and the highest ranked African country at the time. A European equivalent would be Spain, France, Portugal, and Belgium in the same World Cup qualifying group from which only one of them could qualify!
Due to such blood and thunder qualifying campaigns, most African teams are usually emotionally and physically exhausted by the time they arrive at the World Cup after a gruelling qualifying campaign and playing the AFCON only 6 months before the World Cup. It is because of cut-throat qualifying incidents like this that African countries are begging FIFA for more World Cup spots.
The “Europeanisation” of African Football
20-30 years ago, most African international footballers either played for clubs based in Africa, and those who played for European clubs had first built their club careers in Africa before making a name for themselves and being signed by an African club. These days, it is rare to find an African footballer at the World Cup who has played a full season of football in an African league. Most African footballers playing in Europe go straight from African youth academies as young boys or teenagers to European clubs, and do not bother playing professional club football in Africa. Examples of players who travelled this African academy to Europe road include Thomas Partey of Ghana and Arsenal and Wilfried Ndidi of Nigeria and Leicester City.
African academies do not exist to produce players for their national team or domestic league. Instead they exist purely as factories for producing assembly line clone African players suitable for European football teams.
Many other African players were born and raised in Europe and have never lived in the African country they play for. For example, Kalidou Koulibaly and Pierre-Emerick Aubemeyang were born and raised in France and played for France at under-21 or under-20 level before opting to play for Senegal and Gabon. Hakim Ziyech was born in Holland and played for Holland’s under-19, under-20, and under-21 teams before representing Morocco at full adult international level. Many dual-national African players often opt to play for an African country only after it becomes apparent that they will not be first choice for the European country in which they were born.
This “Europeanisation” of African football means that most African players now come in two models: those trained in African academies to be a good fit for a European club, and those who grew up in Europe that European coaches have pre-drilled to play to a tactical European style (a good example is how Mourinho drilled a teenage Mikel who was a playmaking number 10, to instead become a defensive midfield destroyer). Nowadays most African teams are “Diet Europe”. Instead of playing with their own style, African countries come to the World Cup African and try to “out-Europe” the European teams with identical playing styles.
Groups of Death
Some challenges that African countries experience are not of their making. One of these is FIFA’s ranking and seeding system. Because African countries are ranked lower than their European and South American counterparts, they are always unseeded and are placed in pot 3 or 4 for the World Cup draw; inevitably meaning that African teams get drawn in a “Group of Death” with two “superpower” teams from Europe and South America. Hence Ivory Coast’s excellent Drogba-Toure et al team got put in horrible groups with Argentina, Holland, and Serbia (2006) and Brazil and Portugal (2010), while Nigeria has been placed in the same group as Argentina in 5 of the 6 World Cups that Nigeria has played in. The African hard luck story got even more bizarre at the 2018 World Cup after Senegal lost only one game and finished level on points and goal difference with Japan. However, Senegal was eliminated because its players had picked up 1 more yellow card than Japan during the tournament (yellow cards which were actually harshly awarded against Senegal’s players while playing Japan). Senegal was the first team in the 92 year history of the World Cup to be eliminated in such a manner.
Prior to the 1998 World Cup, Tunisia may have considered themselves the unluckiest team in the world. Their best defender (Abdennour) and star attacker (Msakni) got injured before the World Cup and missed the tournament. Then their goalkeeper joined them on the injured list, and the reserve goalkeeper got injured 15 minutes into Tunisia’s first World Cup game and was also ruled out of the tournament. Then in Tunisia’s second game two of their players were seriously injured and stretchered off in the first half.
The Man In Black
In addition to being in Groups of Death, African countries have also been on the receiving end of some absolutely appalling and baffling refereeing decisions. While English football fans are still apoplectic about Maradona’s handball goal against England in 1986 (36 years ago – before most of them were born!), African countries have a catalogue of refereeing grievances that the officials should hang their heads in shame for.
“a criminal act. It’s even worse than what Suarez did”
Nigeria played France in round 2 of the 2014 World Cup. The score was 0-0 in the second half and Nigeria’s midfielder Eddy Onazi was running the show until France’s Blaise Matuidi pole-axed Onazi with this shocking studs up, horror ankle breaker “tackle” that led to Onazi being stretchered off and put in plaster cast. For some unknown reason the American referee Mark Geiger (who was standing 2 yards away) did not send off Matuidi.
Diego Maradona (who has no axe to grind in a match between France and Nigeria) was so outraged by Matuidi’s assault on Onazi that he appeared in public with a photo of Matuidi’s studs stamping down on Onazi’s ankle and said “It is impossible that the referee did not see this challenge as a criminal act. It’s even worse than what Suarez did (biting Chiellini).”
The game completely changed after Onazi was stretchered off and France (with Matuidi who should not have been on the pitch) scored 2 late goals to win the game.
“VAR is Bull—it!” – Spain v Morocco (2018 World Cup)
The refereeing (if organised incompetence can be called that) in the Morocco v Spain game at the last World Cup in 2018 was the closest thing to match fixing I have ever seen on live TV.
Apart from the host of errors in the video above, the tragi-comic officiating culminated in the 92nd minute with Morocco winning 2-1. The ball went out of play for a Moroccan goal kick deep into injury time at the end of the game. The referee incorrectly gave Spain a corner. With the referee pointing to the left corner, and the Moroccan players facing the way he was pointing, Spain then took a quick corner from the opposite side of the pitch to where the ball went out of play, and scored a 92nd minute equaliser from it. The linesman disallowed it for offside, but VAR overruled him, and incredibly, the referee and VAR allowed Spain’s goal to stand despite the plethora of errors and rule breaking that preceded it.
It was so farcical that it provoked Nordin Amrabat (the older brother of Sofyan Amrabat who is in the current Morocco team) into his now infamous “VAR is bull—-!” comment into a TV camera after the game (which became a meme).
This was part 1 of this. In the 2nd part I will examine what African countries can do to optimise their chances of winning the World Cup.
FA Sunday Cup, Round 2
Sunday November 13, 2022 (2pm Kick-Off)
Ware FC, Wodson Park, Wadesmill Rd, Ware SG12 0UQ
Two Winning Cultures
This was an excellent game between two very successful teams. The home team Highgate reached last season’s FA Sunday Cup final, while Hatch Lane are the reigning London Sunday Challenge Cup holders. This match was of a much higher standard than the FA Vase game I watched the previous day between two Step 5 teams, and I think both of Highgate and Hatch Lane would beat either club I saw in the FA Vase.
Before this game players and officials from the Barnet Sunday League could be forgiven for believing that Hatch Lane has a grudge against teams from their league! This was the third time in less than 5 months that Hatch Lane has been drawn against the Barnet Sunday League’s three best teams. In May, Hatch Lane beat Trabzonspor (UK) 2-1 to win the London Sunday Challenge Cup, then in October started their defence of that cup this season by beating the Barnet Sunday League’s champions AFC Oakwood on penalties after a 3-3 draw.
Highgate Albion had won the Barnet Sunday League three times in a row until last season when Highgate, Trabzonspor (UK), and AFC Oakwood were involved in an epic three way tussle for the Barnet Sunday League championship that continued until the last game of the season. Going into their final three games of the season, Highgate were in third place and 7 points behind 1st place Oakwood, and had to win all of their final three games to win the championship for a fourth consecutive season. Two of those final three games were against 2nd placed Trabzonspor (UK) and league table leaders Oakwood. Highgate beat Park Royals and 2nd placed Trabzonspor (UK) to set up a “winner takes” all championship decider on the last day of the season against Oakwood. However, Oakwood beat Highgate 1-0 to clinch the championship and end Highgate’s three year grip on the title.
Meanwhile, Hatch Lane are reigning treble holders after winning the Essex Sunday Corinthian League’s Senior Division, the Senior Division Cup, and most impressively of all –the London FA Sunday Challenge Cup at the first attempt. Hatch Lane was the first team from the Essex Sunday Corinthian League to win that trophy for 19 years.
Several players from both teams know each other as they also face each other in the Essex Senior League while playing for their Saturday semi-professional clubs. Some are event team-mates on Saturdays! For example, Highgate’s left-back Nnamdi Harold-Egole and Hatch Lane’s left winger Samrai Gebrai are team-mates for Essex Senior league leaders Enfield. Hatch Lane’s squad also included the Coley brothers: Ayrton and Tremayne. They are either identical twins or the most similar looking older and younger brother I have ever seen in my life!
This game was emblematic of the problems that London teams face in finding stadia for FA Sunday Cup matches. Due to the FA’s rules for this competition, teams cannot play their matches on the public parks that many London Sunday teams play at. Hence teams have to rent stadia elsewhere – often far away from their base. The fact that the home team Highgate (who are based in north London) had to play a “home” game at Ware FC in Hertfordshire (30 miles and a 1 hour drive away from their neighbourhood) shows how serious the problem is. Ironically, the away team Hatch Lane (from east London) had a shorter trip to the stadium!
One of the weirdest things I noticed about the main spectator stand is that it had a net in the roof; where several birds had nested…and perished while up there. There were several bird corpses up there (with 1-2 looking like they had broken necks). I think someone needs to tell Ware’s ground staff that their main stand has turned into a bird cemetery.
I carefully watched each team’s warm up for tell-tale signs of which of them was more “up for it”. Hatch Lane had a more structured and fluid warm up with cones and running drills, whereas Highgate had a more casual warm-up that involved lots of them firing long range shots at their goalkeeper.
Highgate played its traditional 4-2-3-1 formation, while Hatch Lane played 4-3-3.
Highgate Albion line-up:
|Ian Maitland (captain)||CD|
|James Esprit*||Center Forward|
*Replaced by Richard Kofi-Ennin (53rd minute)
Hatch Lane line-up:
|Psaul Henry-Aimoglou (captain)*||CD (right)|
|Billy Golledge||CD (left)|
|Dan Couldridge||Center Forward|
*Replaced by Ashley Wackers-Kyricou (89th minute)
** Replaced by Aundre Spencer
*** Replaced by Fernandez Magba due to injury (48th minute)
“Hatch Lane look an excellent team”
Someone who watched Hatch Lane’s 3-0 win over FC Steamers of Norwich in round 1 of this competition told me that:
“Hatch Lane look an excellent team and it will take a very good side to beat them and must be considered as having a very strong case to win it. Very fit, very quick with a couple of very calm, controlled technical players in the mix…I understand they’ve been drawn against one of the finalists from last year’s competition in the next round which will be a very good indicator of the level they are at.”
I could see what he meant. Hatch Lane rarely hit the ball long and always looked to pass to feet – even when under pressure. Even when they took free-kicks, the free kick taker rolled the ball along the ground to a team-mate only a few feet away. Most of Hatch Lane’s attacks went through their deep lying left footed regista playmaker Ashaan Siddiq. He reminds me of Fernando Redondo in style – very composed on the ball. I thought he could have been more effective if played further forward in an attacking midfield position. However, given the number of attacking players at Hatch Lane’s disposal, I understand that it may be difficult for the team to accommodate all of its attacking players.
“don’t do that again!”
After 25 minutes Highgate’s manager Adam Shahein went ballistic when his defenders and goalkeeper left a bouncing ball to each other and Hatch Lane’s left winger Sam Gebrai ran through, pounced on the loose ball and lobbed the ball over the Highgate keeper’s head. Fortunately for Highgate, the ball bounced wide. Shahein gave his team an earful and screamed at them “don’t do that again!”.
While Hatch Lane were more technical, Highgate were more physical. Shortly after Shaihen’s tirade, it was the turn of the Hatch Lane management to loose their cool. They were irate when Highgate’s left back Nnamdi Harold-Egole brought down Hatch Lane’s tricky right winger Amaree Robinson-Jones with a clumsy and late tackle. The referee yellow carded Egole, and despite long treatment, Robinson-Jones (another member of the semi-professional contingent – who plays on Saturdays for Step 4 team Witham Town in the Isthmian League, Division 1 South) carried the injury for the remainder of the half.
When not directing their anger at the referee, Hatch Lane’s coaching crew commented amongst themselves that Highgate looked “well drilled”.
“There is no way I could see it from here.”
Highgate’s regular goalkeeper Alexandru Gavriloaia is a character. He was on the substitutes bench today, but his replacement Charles Taylor was outdoing him with hair raising antics. In the 52nd minute he let a back pass roll under his foot and towards the goal. I thought I was about to see the most tragic-comic goal I had ever seen in this competition, but he sprinted back and stopped the ball with his studs just before it crossed the line. The Hatch Lane players and management were convinced that the ball crossed the line (and I suspected it did too). However, both the referee (who was near the halfway line) and assistant (who was 35 yards away from the goal) refused to award the goal as in the referee’s words “There is no way I could see it from here.”
Highgate kept inviting pressure by committing careless fouls in their final third of the pitch. It was not due to Highgate being a “dirty” team, but more due to Hatch Lane’s players being so fast, nimble, and skillful that the ball usually “disappeared” with a Hatch Lane player before a defender could get to it.
I kept thinking that “Highgate will eventually pay for giving away all of these free-kicks”, and sure enough, from one of such free kicks Highgate headed it out from their penalty area, but the ball floated towards Hatch Lane’s midfielder Dan Rudolph standing about 20-25 yards from goal who unleashed a first time “worldie” volley into the corner of the net. The Highgate keeper got his hand on it but could not keep it out, given the extreme power it was hit with. Rudolph’s team-mates celebrated by “worshipping” the right boot he scored with.
Highgate looked in serious trouble as the goal gave Hatch Lane more confidence. Robinson-Jones suddenly shook off his first half injury and caused Highgate problems with his mazy runs. Highgate also had to make an enforced change by removing central defender Alvin Kyeremeh, and then rejigging its formation by moving right-back Rob Magwood to center back, and central midfielder Billy Hayes to right back.
Highgate’s captain Ian Maitland also left his center-back position and started roaming around the pitch. He wore the number 99 shirt (a very unusual number for any position!) hence his undefined roving role was probably apt. I cannot tell you exactly which position he went to as he just wandered around into attacking areas to unsettle Hatch Lane. This tactic worked last season when Highgate were losing 0-2 to Mayfair from Liverpool in the semi-final of this competition, and Maitland scored 2 goals (including a dramatic 93rd minute winning goal that Highgate described as “the most important goal in the club’s history”). Maitland’s 2 goals helped Highgate overturn a 0-2 deficit to win 3-2.
Rather than disorganise Highgate, these switches made them more dangerous and they started creating openings. Highgate’s rapid left winger Tage Kennedy (who also plays semi-professionally on Saturdays for Step 3 club Haringey Borough in the Premier Division of the Isthmian League), threatened and created an opening which forced a great left handed save from Hatch Lane’s keeper Martin Arnauchkov. Kennedy also created another opening for himself but shot narrowly wide with only 8 minutes left. I kept thinking two things: (1) “Why didn’t Highgate attack like this before?!” and (2) If Highgate get back into this game, it will involve Kennedy.
Just as I thought, Kennedy used his searing pace to surge into the Hatch Lane area, where he was brought down. The referee awarded a penalty in the 84th minute and Kennedy celebrated as if he had scored the winning goal – and taunted Hatch Lane’s manager while he was at it.
If VAR existed at this level, it was one of those decisions that VAR would not overturn whether or not the referee gave the penalty. While the Hatch Lane defender impeded Kennedy, it was more of a shoulder to shoulder collision than a violent hack.
With only 5 minutes left there was one obvious candidate to take responsibility for the crucial penalty. This season is Highgate’s 40th anniversary as a club. Only one player in the current Highgate squad had been born when Highgate was formed. Throughout the club’s 40 year history, one surname has been on the Highgate team-sheet across three generations: Maitland. Highgate’s captain and veteran center-back Ian Maitland made his debut for the club before some of his team-mates were born. Almost a quarter of a century and about 500 games later, Maitland still plays for Highgate. He followed in his father Nigel’s footsteps; who also played for Highgate, and even played for the club alongside his younger brother Frankie. Last year a third generation of the Maitland family played for Highgate as Ian’s son Charlie made his debut for the club.
Hatch Lane’s goalkeeper Martin Arnauchkov and his teammates tried everything to put Maitland off and “get in his head” before he took the penalty. This is what happened when Maitland eventually got to take the penalty:
The FA has abandoned extra-time and replays at this stage of the competition. Drawn games go straight to penalty shoot-outs, and with the score at 1-1 Hatch Lane made a last minute substitution and withdrew their captain Psaul Aimoglou and brought on Ashley Wackers specifically to take a penalty. You can probably guess what happened when Wackers took a penalty…
For those who like suspense and want to experience the drama, here are videos of the entire penalty-shoot out:
It is a shame that one of these two excellent teams had to be eliminated. Highgate won the penalty shoot out 4-3. It got back into the game not based on blinding skill, but instead on sheer willpower. However, they will need to reduce the number of free-kicks they give away if they want to repeat last season’s run to the final.
FA VASE: WOODFORD TOWN –V- FAKENHAM TOWN
3pm: Saturday November 12, 2022
Ashton Playing Fields, 598 Chigwell Road, Woodford Green, IG8 8AA
Since elite professional football gets so much attention, I like to give coverage to grassroots football. Today I will feature an FA Vase match between two clubs that play at Step 5 of the amateur football pyramid. The FA Vase is a nationwide football competition for amateur English teams playing at Steps 5-6 of the pyramid (their equivalent of the FA Cup).
Woodford Town: One Club – Many Histories
The home team Woodford Town has quite a history. It is one of those “phoenix clubs” that has gone out of existence and reformed multiple times. The original Woodford Town was formed 85 years ago in 1937 and played in several leagues such as the Southern, Spartan, Athenian, and Essex Senior Leagues. Some former famous professionals such as Jimmy Greaves (who won the World Cup with England), Johnny Haynes, and Joe Kinnear played for Woodford. Jimmy Greaves’ father was also the club’s chairman.
Woodford’s Sunday Team
In Woodford Town’s heyday about 50 years ago, it was a very successful team and played in the Southern League at a time when it was a feeder league into professional football (before the National League was formed). Woodford Town also operated a successful Sunday team which won the famous Hackney & Leyton Sunday League in 1973 (while its reserve team also won Division 1 of that league in the same season). Since Sunday teams normally play on public parks, many of Woodford’s Sunday league opponents would switch their home fixtures to Woodford’s stadium on Snakes Lane (which it shared with the Saturday team) – even when though the opposition were the home team! They did this to have the luxury of playing in a “proper” stadium rather than the muddy bumpy pitches at Hackney Marshes or other parks. Woodford’s Sunday team also entered the national FA Sunday Cup competition in the 1973-74 season, and was good enough to beat the highly rated Arras FC from Middlesex en route to the quarter-final; where it lost 1-2 to Robin Hood’s Retreat from Bristol. Robin Hood’s Retreat fans were quite a lively and fun loving bunch, who came to their team’s matches dressed as Robin Hood and his merry bunch of outlaws! (including Friar Tuck and Maid Marian) Keeping in character, when their team scored, they would run onto the pitch brandishing mock swords. This is quite a long way from vuvuzelas and flares in the modern game!
Back to Woodford Town…
The Years of Darkness
Woodford’s history got dark and murky in the 1990s and early 2000s. Firstly, the club was evicted from its Snakes Lane stadium in 1993, and the stadium was destroyed in a fire in 1996. In 2003, the Essex Senior League expelled Woodford from the league after Woodford finished bottom of the league three seasons in a row between 2001-2003 (and 2nd from bottom four seasons before in 2000). Woodford could hardly complain as they took some awful beatings during that era; such as a 0-15 loss to Stansted in the 2001-2 season, and Chris Stevens of Ilford scored 8 goals against them in a 9-0 massacre the prior season. The club was dissolved and disappeared after this expulsion from the Essex Senior League.
After this, Woodford’s story got even more complicated. It has had three different existences:
- The original club that played between 1937 and 2003;
- A reformed club that played between 2016-2017; and
- The third (present) club that plays under the Woodford Town name.
The current team is an alchemy of several different clubs with various legacies. For those who do not like detail – be warned as the story is about to get very detailed and confusing!
The Second Woodford Town Era (2016-2017)
Woodford Town’s second existence inadvertently had its roots in the same year it was dissolved. In 2003 Soner Mustafa formed an under-12s youth football team called Bush Hill Rangers; which played in north London. In 2007 an adults’ team called Goffs Oak was founded and started playing in the Premier Division of the Hertford & District League in Hertfordshire. After Goffs Oak gained promotion to the Hertfordshire Senior County League in 2010, it won Division 1 of that league at the first attempt and gained promotion to the Premier Division (Step 7).
By now the young boys that played for the Bush Hill Rangers youth team were approaching their late teens and looking to progress into adult football. Goffs Oak and Bush Hill Rangers reached an agreement in 2011 whereby Bush Hill Rangers would play as Goffs Oak’s reserve team. Bush Hill Rangers was renamed Goffs Oak Reserves and won Reserve Division 1 of the Hertfordshire Senior County League at the first attempt in the 2011-2012 season. The following year Goffs Oak‘s first and reserve teams merged and the successor club resumed using the Bush Hill Rangers name.
Then in 2014, Bush Hill Rangers gained promotion to Division 1 of the Spartan South Midlands League (Step 6), and changed its name to “Woodford Town” in 2015 after merging with a youth football club of the same name. The club regarded itself as a resurrection of the original Woodford Town FC, and although it won the Middlesex Premier Cup in 2016, it played only one season under that name before dissolving due to being unable to continue playing at its new home stadium at Goldsdown Road in Brimsdown (the former home stadium of Brimsdown Rovers). With that, Woodford Town FC died for a second time.
…but only for one year
Summary of Second Woodford Town Era:
- 2003: Bush Hill Rangers formed as an under-12s youth team
- 2007: Goffs Oak FC founded and starts playing in the Premier Division of the Hertford & District League
- 2010: Goffs Oak is promoted to Hertfordshire Senior County League
- 2011 Goffs Oak and Bush Hill Rangers reach agreement for Bush Hill Rangers to become Goffs Oak’s reserve team
- 2012: Goffs Oak and Bush Hill Rangers merge, with the successor club being called Bush Hill Rangers
- 2015: Bush Hill Rangers changed its name to Woodford Town
- 2018: Soner Mustafa resurrects the Bush Hill Rangers name and forms a new team called Bush Hill Rangers which wins Division 1 of the Hertfordshire Senior County League in its first season
The Third Woodford Town Era (2017- Present)
Woodford Town was born for a third time from an unlikely source. In 2000 a team called Mauritius Sports started playing in the London Intermediate League. Mauritius Sports was formed as a team for members of the Mauritius diaspora in London. In 2004 Mauritius Sports merged with former London Intermediate League champions CMB Metal Box FC to form Mauritius Sports (CMB). In 2007, Mauritius Sports merged again; this time with a Middlesex County League team called Walthamstow Avenue & Pennant. The merged club was renamed Mauritius Sports & Pennant. Confusingly, Walthamstow Avenue & Pennant was itself formed from a merger between two clubs: Walthamstow Avenue and Pennant (confused yet?!). At this stage, the club was an amalgamation of three teams (Mauritius Sports, Walthamstow Avenue,and Pennant).
The club changed its name a bewildering 6 more times in the next 10 years as follows: Mauritius Sports Association UK (2009), Haringey & Waltham Development (2011), Greenhouse London (2013), Greenhouse Sports (2015), Woodford Town 2017 (2017), before changing again to the present name of Woodford Town (2019).
If you wonder how “Greenhouse” got into the name, that occurred after the club became associated with the Greenhouse Bethwin charity, but had to abandon the name after severing its association with the charity.
After 8 name changes in 12 years, Woodford Town was back – playing in the Essex Senior League, just like the original club. The club’s chairman Tony Scott nostalgically wanted to return to its former stadium at Snakes Lane in Woodford, Essex. However, after being empty and disused for 26 years, the stadium was derelict and overgrown with weeds. Although floodlights were still at the stadium, the club could not redevelop it as it was on a flood plain, had drainage issues, and would require lots of renovation to comply with modern health and safety laws.
After decades of nomadic existence ground-sharing with other clubs and playing in far away locations such as Brimsdown in Middlesex and Broxbourne in Hertfordshire, in 2021, the club instead found a new home at the newly renovated Ashton Playing Fields on Chigwell Road; which was a few minutes away from its old Snakes Lane stadium. After Redbridge Council invested £1.6 million to develop Ashton Playing Fields as a multi-sport athletics and football arena, with a stand that can host 250 spectators, Woodford Town returned to its original neighbourhood for the first time in 27 years.
Summary of Third Woodford Town Era:
- 2000: Mauritius Sports FC is formed
- 2004: Mauritius Sports merges with CMB Metal Box to become Mauritius Sports (CMB)
- 2007: Mauritius Sports merged with Walthamstow Avenue & Pennant to form Mauritius Sports & Pennant (Walthamstow Avenue & Pennant was itself created from mergers between Walthamstow Avenue & Leyton Pennant)
- 2009: Changed name to Mauritius Sports Association UK
- 2011: Changed name to Haringey & Waltham Development
- 2013: Changed name to Greenhouse London
- 2015: Changed name to Greenhouse Sports
- 2016: Changed name to Haringey & Waltham
- 2017: Changed name to Woodford Town
Woodford Town’s history is so convoluted that a forum user called “Forest Gump” created an info-graphic which he posted on the Nonleaguematters.com forum and in the Walthamstow FC programme when they played Woodford Town. Walthamstow’s history also intersects with Woodford Town’s (do not ask!).
Links Between the Present and the Past
While the new Woodford Town is adamant that it is a reincarnation of the original club (and the FA recognises its claim), the links are tenuous. It is basically a club that started life as a Mauritius diaspora football team, changed its name 8 times in just over a decade, until it found a historic name that resonated, stuck with it, then claimed to be the original Woodford Town reborn.
Nonetheless it has a tenuous parallel with the original club. The current manager Shane Baptiste played for the very successful Bancroft United and Eureka teams in the same Hackney & Leyton Sunday League that the Sunday team of the original Woodford Town played in. Baptiste won the league twice with both clubs, and also won the London FA Sunday Intermediate Cup with Eureka in 2009, and the Middlesex County League with Bethnal Green United (now Tower Hamlets FC) in the same year. While Baptiste manages Woodford Town on Saturdays, he also manages a talented young team called London All Stars on Sundays in the Essex Corinthian Sunday League.
You may wonder why I spent so much time discussing Woodford’s history. Well, its wild history was far more interesting than the FA Vase game I watched today. Woodford Town is currently in mid-table in the Essex Senior League (10th place of 20 teams) while the away team Fakenham Town (from Norfolk) is in 6th place (of 20 teams) in the Premier Division of the Eastern Counties League.
Ashton Playing Fields is not the most spectator friendly place to watch a football match. Since it is used for multiple sports and by Woodford Green Athletics Club With Essex Ladies, and for athletics events, the pitch is surrounded by an 8 lane running track, a long jump and triple jump ramp, and 2 sandpits. As such the stand and spectator areas are very far from the pitch. It is reminiscent of old east European stadia such as Red Star Belgrade.
“Is a training bib your kit?”
Alejandro Machado’s header gave Woodford the lead after 10 minutes. Thereafter the game on the pitch was attritional, and most of the entertainment came from the noisy band of drum beating Woodford fans. English football fans create notoriously witty chants and Woodford’s fans did not disappoint. They taunted Fakenham’s players with chants of: “Is a training bib your kit?” (a mocking reference to Fakenham’s half red, half white shirts), and “Your town is made up. Fakenham – your town is made up.”
Fakenham’s Jack Robinson soon quietened the Woodford fans. Just before the 30 minute mark, he raced through on goal (from a suspiciously offside looking position) to equalise. Robinson celebrated by looking at the Woodford fans and making a “sush” gesture to them. Woodford’s goalkeeper Callum McEvoy could have done better as Robinson did not hit his shot with great power or speed.
HALF-TIME SCORE: 1-1
“how much money do I have?”
I was very surprised at how direct the football was. It was rare for either team to play more than 3-4 passes before hitting a long ball. The ball also spent an unnecessary amount of time in the air. Just when I was despairing at the lack of goal mouth action, Jack Robinson produced a moment of real quality. He ran at Woodford’s defence from the left, before hitting a fierce left footed drive that went in off the post to put Fakenham 2-1 ahead.
Thereafter, Fakenham managed the game very well and ignored a noisy group of teenage Woodford town fans who hurled obscene four letter abuse and insults at Fakenham’s keeper Callum McEvoy throughout the second half. Their four letter expletives got so much that some Woodford fans moved away from them to give their ears a respite. They were making such a nuisance that they even had time to distract their own team’s ballboys, and walked through the perimeter barrier separating the spectator area from the playing surface. A Woodford official came over, and told them to get away from the playing surface. Bizarrely, one of them came over to me, showed me a handful of coins, repeatedly asked me “how much money do I have?”, told me “I don’t know how much money and I have” and insisted that I should count the value of the coins in his hand for him as he could not calculate for himself. I do wonder what they teach teenagers in school nowadays (or if he realised that his phone has a calculator app).
Back on the pitch, Fakenham managed the game well and looked to be heading through, but with only 8 minutes left, Woodford’s Alejandro Machado scored his second goal of the game to equalise from a corner by Dimitri Christou. With the final score 2-2, Fakenham won 4-3 on penalties to advance to the next round.
|WOODFORD TOWN||FAKENHAM TOWN|
|Callum McEvoy||Tom Coombe|
|Montel McKenzie||Ben Terry|
|Kai Peters||Mitchell Rasberry|
|Alejandro Machado||Daniel Hogston|
|Lee Sharpe||Jayden Wright|
|Guy Kiangbeni||Alex Walpole|
|Ope Mosuro||Jack Robinson|
|Normand Kebi (c)||Jack Guyton|
|Luke Parrott||Ashley Jarvis|
|Jaedon Phillips||Finn Whiteley|
|Zee Lopes||Jake Watts|
|Dimitri Christou||Josh Gauntlett|
|Jake Haskins||Calum Dickinson|
|Wale Odedoyin||Tam Demunga|
|Nathan Kpemou||Finlay Page|
|Bailey Brown||Tjay Kerr|
|Andre Anderson||Jude Frostick|
On this day 27 years ago MOSOP leader Ken Saro-Wiwa was executed after a special tribunal convicted him of inciting a mob to murder four pro-government Ogonis. Saro-Wiwa had been campaigning against international oil companies and the Nigerian government, and demanding that they pay compensation for the environmental damage that crude oil drilling caused to his Ogoni homeland (such as oil spills that polluted farms and rivers).
AFC BULL -V- AVENUE
Date: Sunday November 13, 2022
Venue: Lower Breck FC, Anfield Sports and Community Centre, Lower Breck Road, Liverpool L6 0AG
Continued from Part 1…
This tie replicates English football’s fiercest rivalry (Liverpool -v- Manchester) and features a team from Manchester that recorded the biggest upset of the 1st round by beating a four-time former finalist and a team associated with Wayne Rooney’s family.
League: Liverpool Business Houses League
Last season: 12th (of 14) in the Liverpool Business Houses League
This season: 2nd in the Liverpool Business Houses League
Best FA Sunday Cup performance: 4th round (last 16) in 2014-15
AFC Bull is a throwback to traditional “pub teams” of the past. Until 2019 this team of Everton supporters was named “The Black Bull” after the pub of the same name in Walton Vale, Liverpool; which is the club’s sponsor. The Black Bull pub (formerly known as the “Black Bull Inn”) is the club’s base and has been in business for over 140 years.
The Black Bull FC was a member of the Liverpool & District Sunday League until that league merged with the Liverpool Business Houses League in the 2018-19 season. The club was placed in the Championship (second tier) of the Liverpool Business Houses League before being promoted to the Premier Division in the 2020-21 season.
The club is a familiar presence in the FA Sunday Cup. It returned to the competition this season after being unable to compete last season due to the FA condensing the competition and only permitting 64 clubs to compete in it. Although it has never reached the latter stages, it usually creates headlines in the FA Sunday Cup. In 2017 it reached the 4th round, but was expelled along with its 4th round opponent Witton Park Rose and Crown FC of the Durham & District Sunday League.
The FA instead gave Hardwick Social (which was due to play the winner of the Black Bull v Witton Park Rose and Crown match in the quarter-final) a bye into the semi-final, and Stockton based Hardwick Social went on to win the cup by beating then reigning cup holders New Salamis in the final on penalties after a 1-1 draw.
The Black Bull returned in 2019 under its current name of AFC Bull and also under a new manager John Lawless and his assistant manager Lee Dickson. AFC Bull’s secretary Luke Hargreaves told me that Lawless and Dickson came:
“on board to help us build a top side…It hasn’t all been plain sailing, but we have got a great set up & great bunch of lads both on and off the pitch which makes Sundays regardless of the result enjoyable”
The new AFC Bull returned to the FA Sunday Cup in 2019 and again had a run-in with the FA – this time for very different reasons. AFC Bull was drawn against fellow Liverpool team Pineapple (yes – Liverpool teams deserve their own Hall of Fame for their wonderful names!) which like AFC Bull; also transitioned from the Liverpool & District Sunday League to the Liverpool Business Houses League when the two leagues merged. Pineapple beat AFC Bull 4-3 after extra-time, but the FA disqualified Pineapple for playing an ineligible player and reinstated AFC Bull. However, rather than accepting the free passage into round 2, AFC Bull instead wrote to the FA to appeal for Pineapple’s reinstatement, and withdrew from the FA Sunday Cup in protest and solidarity with their Liverpool league mates after the FA refused to reinstate Pineapple.
The Liverpool Business Houses league has a different look this season after its top team Campfield (who won the FA Sunday Cup in 2015 and 2021) disbanded. AFC Bull’s secretary Luke Hargreaves told me that:
“Campfield were not only brilliant on the pitch but also great lads off it. They are an example of what any Sunday league should be and have the honours to prove that too. The league obviously lost a quality side”
“a quality midfield player”
Campfield’s exit was a blessing for the league’s other clubs as its players dispersed around other clubs in the league. AFC Bull is one of the beneficiaries of Campfield’s demise, and signed midfielder Matty Williams (who won the FA Sunday Cup twice with Campfield). Hargreaves described Williams as “a quality midfield player”. Williams has also played at a good level on Saturdays for semi-professional clubs such as Marine and Lower Breck in the Northern Premier League and North West Counties League.
AFC Bull’s squad also includes left back Daniel Lowey (a former member of Everton’s academy), and others such as Ricky Agee who have played for Step 5-6 clubs in the North West Counties League.
After a modest last season during which AFC Bull narrowly avoided relegation on goal difference, the club is doing very well this season under the management of Lee Dickson and Elliot Burke. The club is in 2nd place in the Liverpool Business Houses League and has lost only one game this season. Hargreaves told me that:
“It was disappointing to exit the competition when we did last time out but we are hoping we can improve on that. It was also disappointing to not receive a place in last year’s competition due to the COVID restrictions in place. That has motivated us even more to make sure we can prove why we deserve to be playing against the top sides in the country.”
Location: Heywood, Lancashire
League: Rochdale, Bury & District Sunday Football League
- Rochdale, Bury & District Sunday League champions (second in a row)
- Manchester FA Sunday Challenge Shield winners
- Christine Robinson Memorial Trophy winners
- Chris Shyne Memorial Trophy winners
This season:1st in the Rochdale, Bury & District Sunday League
Prior FA Sunday Cup performance: N/A
Avenue is a famous name in the FA Sunday Cup. Back in the 1980s the Birkenhead Sunday League’s champions Avenue played in five successive FA Sunday Cup finals in only two years. This happened because back then, penalty shoot outs had not been introduced as a way to settle drawn cup finals. Finals had to be replayed if the clubs drew. Hence, Avenue played Hobbies United three times in the 1985 final at the stadiums of Norwich City, Tranmere Rovers, and Nuneaton Borough before Hobbies prevailed in the third game. However, Avenue reached the final again the following season (1986) and managed to win in its fourth final appearance. It also reached the final for a third successive year in 1987; where it narrowly lost 0-1 AET to Lodge Cottrell from Birmingham.
The Avenue FC in this season’s FA Sunday Cup is a different team that is competing in the competition for the first time. Avenue are the current champions of the Rochdale, Bury & District Sunday League and are a team on the rise.
“The Greatest Hat-Trick of All Time”
Avenue’s Callum Ormrod went viral last year after video footage of the sensational hat-trick he scored in his club’s 7-0 demolition of Rochdalians was posted online. His hat-trick was dubbed “The Greatest Hat-Trick of All Time”; as each of Ormrod’s 3 goals was a long range 25-30 yard howitzer fired into the roof of the net.
Avenue’s trophy cabinet is overflowing; as it won six competitions last season between its first and second teams. The first team won four trophies: the Rochdale, Bury & District Sunday League for the second season in a row (which was also its third league title in succession after winning Division 2 three years ago), also won its county cup (the Manchester FA Sunday Challenge Shield), and two cup competitions in its league. Avenue’s reserve team also won Division 2 and the FJ Williams First Division Trophy as well. However, the reserves did not gain the promotion to Division 1 that their league championship win merited; because the league’s rules forbid a club’s first and reserve teams from playing in the same division.
Both the first and reserve teams continued this season where they left off last season, are top of Divisions 1 and 2 of the Rochdale, Bury & District Sunday League, and both teams have won all of their matches this season.
The amazing part about the Avenue’s success is that it was formed only 8 years ago. The club’s current President and head coach Brian Farrell formed Avenue in 2014, and named it after Cherwell Avenue in Heywood, Lancashire (where the club was originally based). The name Avenue also had a secondary meaning; as it was suggestive of “making progress toward something”. The club has certainly made lots of progress and now operates four teams. This season it doubled the number of its teams by adding Saturday first and reserve teams in addition to its existing Sunday first and reserve teams. The Saturday first and reserve teams play in Divisions 1 and 5 of the Manchester Football League (Steps 8 and 12 of the non-league football pyramid).
After dominating its league so comprehensively, this season Avenue decided to test itself on the national stage by becoming the first team from the Rochdale, Bury & District Sunday League to play in the FA Sunday Cup. Its first ever game in the competition was a daunting game against 4 time FA Sunday Cup finalists Oyster Martyrs (a team traditionally managed by members of Wayne Rooney’s family). Despite being huge underdogs and going 0-2 down, Avenue came back to win 4-3 in what was the biggest upset so far in this season’s FA Sunday Cup.
Avenue’s reward for beating a top team from the Liverpool Business Houses League is…another match against a top team from the Liverpool Business Houses League! After beating one of the cup favourites in round 1, this is Avenue’s chance to show that its win over Oyster Martyrs was not a fluke and that it belongs at this level.
Since elite professional football gets so much attention, I like to write about areas of football that get overlooked. Among those is the FA Sunday Cup; an excellent but sadly little known nationwide competition for the best Sunday football teams in England. For those who think Sunday football is a dumping ground for the unfit and overweight – think again. Teams and their players have to be seriously good and organised to compete in this competition. It is essentially semi-professional football, and several former top flight professionals have played in it (including former Chelsea striker Kerry Dixon – who played 335 games and scored 147 goals for Chelsea).
The round 2 matches of this season’s competition will be played on Sunday November 13, 2022, and below is a preview of a match involving the current cup holders.
CHATHAM TOWN SR -V- BAITEZE SQUAD: THE CHAMPS ARE BACK
Sunday November 13, 2022
The Bauvill Stadium, Maidstone Road, Chatham, Kent, ME4 6LR
CHATHAM TOWN SR
Location: Chatham, Kent
League: Medway Sunday League
Last season: 2nd in the Medway Sunday League
Honours: Kent FA Sunday Premier Cup winners (2021)
Prior FA Sunday Cup performance: Lost 1-3 to Banstead Rovers in round 1 (December 2021)
Chairman: Ray Knapp
Manager: Jamie Pettett
Assistant Manager: David Pettett
Coach: Matt Rowe
General Assistant: Bobby Terrett
Secretary: Phyllis Knapp
Chatham Town SR is three clubs in one. It is the Sunday team of Saturday team Chatham Town FC which plays at Step 4 of the football pyramid in the Isthmian League South East Division. Chatham Town has a long history and has been playing for 140 years. Yet, how did a semi-professional team which has reached the quarter-finals of the (Saturday) FA Cup end up having a Sunday team?
Swallow Rise 93 FC (named after a street in Chatham, Kent) formed in 1993 as a local youth under-8s and under-9s boys team managed by Ray Knapp. Under Knapp’s leadership the team progressed from youth football into adult football with a Sunday team playing in the Medway Sunday League and a Saturday team playing in the Rochester & District League (a feeder league to the Kent County League). The club was promoted to the Medway Sunday League’s top division in the 2010-2011 season and has remained there ever since.
Life changed for Swallow Rise 93 in the summer of 2019 during a chance conversation between its manager Jamie Pettett and Chatham Town’s Chairman Kevin Hake. Suddenly and unexpectedly, Hake asked Pettett whether he would be interested in merging Swallow Rise 93 into Chatham Town as the latter’s Sunday team, and also offered to let them use Chatham’s stadium as their home ground. Pettett told me that in response to the offer:
“I snapped his hand off. The facilities [at Chatham] and pitch are top end for a club like us and [I] didn’t want to pass us such an opportunity”.
After accepting the offer, Swallow Rise 93 changed its name to “Chatham Town Sunday”, and despite being merged into a club that formed in the 19th century when Queen Victoria was still on the throne, Swallow Rise 93 preserved its legacy by adding “SR” to the merged club’s name and this season changed its name again to “Chatham Town SR”. It also incorporated a miniature version of Swallow Rise 93’s badge into Chatham Town’s badge. There is also personnel continuity as its very first manager Ray Knapp is still at the club – as chairman.
“It was an opportunity we just couldn’t resist”
Having a home stadium with a capacity for 5000 spectators is a luxury that few Sunday teams enjoy. Pettett said “It was an opportunity we just couldn’t resist.” The club has done well since moving under the Chatham Town banner. The association with a senior Saturday club and the use of its facilities has allowed it to attract good players. Pettett also told me that:
“We have really grown. We have signed some great players and now have a squad that can challenge for both league and cup competitions.”
The best day in Chatham Town SR’s history occurred was Sunday June 20, 2021 when it played in the 2019-2020 Kent Sunday Premier Cup Final against the champions of the Thanet Sunday League Dolphin Kings. The final had been delayed due to Covid and could not be played until the following year at the Gallagher Stadium in Maidstone (the home stadium of Step 1 National League team Maidstone United).
It was a bittersweet day. A portent of the trouble ahead occurred when someone in the crowd threw beer over Chatham’s goalkeeper Dean Bate as he prepared to take a goal kick. When Bate again tried to take the goal kick, someone in the crowd again soaked him with beer, and the game was delayed for almost 10 minutes as officials tried to restore order and Bate had to change his kit. When Ben Percy scored his second goal of the game to put Chatham 3-0 up, all hell broke loose and mass violence erupted.
The violence was not between players, but instead between spectators behind one of the goals. The players were actually the peacemakers and jumped over the barriers to try and stop fighting in the crowd as fists were flying. Despite the mass brawl the officials allowed the 3-0 result to stand and Chatham won its first and only ever county cup.
However, Chatham has a big problem that can be summarised by one word: Quested. Quested FC is the current champion of the Medway Sunday League. If I could go back in time and repeat that last sentence every day of the previous 22 years, I would have been right 21 years out of 22. Quested’s incredible run of 21 championship wins in 22 years has put Chatham in an “always the bridesmaid…” position as it has finished in 2nd place behind Quested seven times in the past ten seasons. As if enduring Quested’s serial winning was not enough of a challenge, Chatham has also been drawn against Quested in round 3 of this season’s Kent county FA Sunday Premier Cup.
The Medway Sunday League became so concerned at Quested’s dominance that last season, it tried to introduce a new rule to forbid its member clubs from fielding players who play for Saturday clubs at Step 4 and above of the pyramid, or from fielding more than two Step 6 players. This move was clearly targeted at weakening Quested; which has many players who play for Step 4-6 clubs in the Isthmian and Southern Counties East Leagues. The proposal was so controversial that Quested threatened to end its 40 year association with the Medway Sunday League. Chatham deserves credit for rejecting the chance to weaken a rival. It supported Quested in opposing the proposal. Chatham admitted that:
“We were fully behind Quested in trying to prevent the league from not allowing any player above step 4 to play in the league and League Cup. Even though at the time we only had 2 Players at that level we believed that it would lower the standard of the league and prevent us from ever competing in other competitions like the Kent Cup or this (national FA Sunday Cup).”
The opposition to the player limitation proposal caused the Medway Sunday League to abandon it.
This is only the second time that Chatham has competed in the FA Sunday Cup. It has an advantage over most other teams in this competition because it plays all of its home games at the same stadium. To comply with the FA’s ground grading rules, home teams in this competition often have to pay to rent stadia from other clubs, and end up travelling long distances for their “home” games. Chatham faces no such issue since it plays its home games at its parent club’s floodlit Bauvill Stadium which has facilities that exceed FA requirements for this competition.
After losing 2-1 to Leatherhead & District Sunday League champions Banstead Rovers in round 1 of last season’s competition, Chatham started this year’s competition very well by beating highly rated 2021 London Sunday Challenge Cup winners and 2021 Metropolitan Sunday League champions Grand Athletic 1-0. Chatham’s reward for this impressive win is a second round tie against the current FA Sunday Cup holders.
Location: Newham, east London
League: Essex Sunday Corinthian League
Last season: FA Sunday Cup winners, 2nd in the Essex Sunday Corinthian League
Honours: FA Sunday Cup winners (2022)
Prior FA Sunday Cup performance:
- 2019-2020: Round 2: lost 1-2 to Shire United (Thames Valley Sunday League) – November 2019
- 2021-2022: winners
Manager: Billy Hession
Captain: Adeyinka “Ade” Cole
The cup holders Baiteze are trying to do something only three teams have done in the 57 year history of the FA Sunday Cup: win the competition twice in a row. As the reigning cup holders, the FA exempted Baiteze from round 1 this season.
For the unitiated/those unfamiliar with them, Baiteze is one of the most popular of the so-called “YouTube teams” who professionally film and upload HD footage of their games with commentary to YouTube, and also film and upload other videos of them playing against professional footballers such as Alex Iwobi of Everton, Calvin Bassey of Ajax, and Joe Aribo of Southampton.
They combine a Match of the Day style highlights package of their games, with outlandish commentary, behind the scenes fly on the wall footage of what it is like playing for, and running, an amateur football club, and the larger than life characters at the clubs.
Baiteze were originally a group of semi-professional footballers who filmed themselves doing tricks and cross bar challenges online with against professional footballers. However, they did not become a real football team until they joined forces with a club called Mile End FC which started playing in the Hackney and Leyton League about 15 years ago. Mile End was a good but unspectacular mid-table team in that league until an influx of the Baiteze players into Mile End’s squad led the team to change its name to “Mile End Baiteze Squad”. The merged club won the Hackney & Leyton League’s Premier Division championship three times (2016, 2018, and 2019).
However, an acrimonious split with their manager Justin Gardner (who also managed Barking FC on Saturdays in the Isthmian League (Step 4)) in 2020 saw the club split into two. One group of players continued playing for Gardner in the Hackney & Leyton League under the Mile End Baiteze Squad name, while the younger players moved to the Essex Sunday Corinthian League to play as Baiteze Squad. Mile End Baiteze Squad took the club’s football history and goodwill, while Baiteze Squad walked away with the cream of the club’s talented players and its social media following.
Baiteze made many critics eat humble pie last season. Many Liverpool teams were against the entry of what they considered to be an arrogant and brash “YouTube team” with no history. Teams from Liverpool have won this cup more times than any other city in the country and tend to consider themselves as guardians of amateur football’s traditions. The Liverpool teams spent so much time on “the game has gone” complaints that they did not notice that Baiteze is actually a very good team. Five of the six teams that Baiteze beat to win this cup last season were reigning champions of their respective leagues (and the sixth won its league during the season). Beating league champions from Ipswich, Kent, south London, Doncaster, Middlesbrough, and north London was no mean feat. During that cup winning run, Baiteze also beat Middlesbrough Dormans – who knocked out the then reigning Cup holders Campfield, and also beat the then reigning Metropolitan Sunday League champions and London Sunday Challenge Cup holders Grand Athletic – who had been unbeaten for about 40 games and 18 months.
Baiteze’s squad includes ex Liverpool academy player Jason Banton (who also played professionally for Plymouth Argyle), and its captain Ade Cole plays semi-professionally on Saturdays for Isthmian League Premier Division team Margate (Step 3).
Baiteze’s victory in this competition also provided free publicity for the FA and for every team they played against. Since Baiteze films and uploads all of its games to YouTube (accompanied by the colourful commentary of Joel Mensah), it has showcased the FA Sunday Cup to its massive young, urban based, music conscious Gen Z fanbase that did not even know this cup existed 1 year ago. Baiteze’s thrilling 3-2 win against SE Dons win in this competition last season in front of a crowd of almost 2000 at Barking FC was the most well attended FA Sunday Cup match in decades, and drew a bigger crowd than most finals. Baiteze’s mere presence in this competition drew attention to it, and increased participation and fan attendance. After decades of not bothering to enter this competition, 9 London teams entered it this season (4 of whom are first time entrants). That is probably not unconnected to Baiteze’s win last season.
Being national champions came at a price. Baiteze’s players now have huge targets on their backs, as every opponent raises their game and badly wants to beat them in order to claim the scalp of the national champions. Baiteze had a horrid October during which they lost 3 out of the 4 games they played in that month, and conceded 10 goals in only 2 games in successive 3-7 and 2-4 defeats to Flyhouse Athletic and London All Stars respectively. Although they squeezed in an emphatic 4-0 league win against London Sunday Challenge Cup holders Hatch Lane after those two defeats, Zaza FC of the Barnet Sunday League beat them 4-2 on penalties after a 2-2 draw to eliminate Baiteze from the London Sunday Challenge Cup.
Every game that Baiteze plays will be fiercely competitive and frantic. Chatham Town SR will provide another stern test for them, and told me that:
“I think it’s great that we get to compete against the current best Sunday league club in the country. To be the best you have to beat the best and that’s what we’re hoping to do. We are happy to have our performance shown online after the game. Hopefully we’re successful and everyone can see what a great side we are.”
For those who associate Sunday football with images of drunk out of shape players, think again. For those unfamiliar with it, the FA Sunday Cup is like the Champions League of amateur Sunday football, and features the best Sunday teams from across England. Players and teams have to be seriously good and fit to be able to compete in it. Most of the players are ex-professionals or semi-professionals. A sceptic who watched a game in this competition some years ago confessed: “I was very, very, very shocked just how good the football was”.
This season’s FA Sunday Cup will start this Sunday: October 9, 2022. I am previewing three standout ties from the first round: featuring 6 teams – five of whom are champions of their respective leagues, but are at different stages of their FA Sunday Cup journey. Two of the six teams have been playing for a combined total of 87 years, another tie is between so-called “YouTube teams”, while this third and concluding part features two teams who are playing in the FA Sunday Cup for the first time in their history.
FC STEAMERS -v- HATCH LANE
Date: Sunday October 9, 2022
Venue: Harrod Sport Arena, Norwich NR5 9ED
FC Steamers of the Norwich & District Sunday League has the most traditional Sunday league formation story of the six teams featured. The team started informally about 15 years ago as a 5 a side team made up of school mates. Its original name was “Cleveland Steamers” (do not ask!), but mercifully dropped the “Cleveland” and are now just FC Steamers.
It started playing in 11 a side tournaments in Norfolk, and after the Covid lockdown, the team decided to formally enter competitive Sunday football and joined Division 3 of the Norwich & District Sunday League in 2020. It finished second in Division 3 and reached the final of the Norfolk County FA Sunday Junior Cup, but lost narrowly 2-4 on penalties to Long Stratton FC after a 3-3 draw (Long Stratton had won Divisions 1 and 2 of the Norwich & District Sunday League in successive seasons in 2021 and 2022 respectively).
After a league reorganisation, the Norwich & District Sunday League catapulted FC Steamers up three divisions into the Premier Division in only its second season. It also entered the FA Sunday Cup – again in only its second season. Despite being a new team, FC Steamers has good players and is growing quickly. The club’s younger players started a Saturday team this season; which is currently top of the North East Norfolk League – having won all 4 of its league games so far this season. The Saturday team are sufficiently good and confident that they have already applied for promotion to the league above them (the Anglian Combination – which is at Step 7 of the amateur football pyramid).
Some members of FC Steamers’ Sunday team also play on Saturdays for other clubs at Steps 5-6 of the football pyramid, and according to a club member “even more could [play at that level] if they could be bothered”.
The three bits of good news for FC Steamers are that it will play at home at the brand new Harrod Sport Arena in Norwich, its round 1 opponent is also playing its first ever game in the FA Sunday Cup, and that the Norwich & District Sunday League has a good record in this competition. Three of the league’s teams have reached the final before. The bad news is that no team from the Norwich & District Sunday League has won the FA Sunday Cup for 37 years – since Hobbies United won it in 1985.
London Sunday Challenge Cup holders
Essex Sunday Corinthian League champions
FC Steamers’ opponent Hatch Lane is also making its FA Sunday Cup debut. Yinka Faleye formed Hatch Lane 13 years ago in 2009. The original squad was made up of a group of young men from Chingford in east London. After Yinka sadly died in only the club’s second season, his good friends Ben Siaw, Derek Palton and Selly J took over the club.
Since then Hatch Lane has grown to become one of the best teams the Essex Sunday Corinthian League has had for about 20 years since the great Memorial Sports team of the early 2000s. Those familiar with east London football will recall that Memorial Sports were quite special and had an incredible 2003; in which it won the London FA Sunday Challenge Cup, while in the same season its Saturday team won the London FA Junior Cup and the Ilford & District League. The following season the Sunday team won the Essex FA Sunday Premier Cup and the Essex Sunday Corinthian League championship, and reached the London FA Sunday Challenge Cup final again!
Hatch Lane had humble beginnings and started life in Division 1 of the East London Sunday League (the middle of the league’s 3 divisions). That league gained cult fame 31 years ago, when TV personality Danny Baker hosted a TV series that focused on the league’s 4th division.
Hatch Lane was a mid-table team until it won a double by winning the Division 1 championship and the East London Cup in 2012, and then after being promoted, won the Premier Division at the first attempt the following season.
The club’s ambition was to first create a winning legacy in the East London Sunday League, before moving on to the bigger and more competitive Hackney & Leyton League. However, the combined effects of football instability in east London, Covid, and sudden deaths thwarted their plans. The club took a few “sabbaticals” from the ailing East London Sunday League, but kept reforming and rejoining the league. The league tried to survive by merging with the London City Airport League and the Barking & Dagenham League (the amalgamated leagues were called the East London, Barking & Dagenham League). However, the merged league also closed.
Meanwhile, the neighbouring 75 year old Hackney & Leyton League was in turmoil. Firstly, the league’s long standing chairman Johnnie Walker died in 2020, followed 2 months later by its popular Vice-Chairman Jermaine Hughes (who died from Covid). This was only 1 year after the death of Mr Walker’s daughter Angelina Walker (who was also the league’s General Secretary), and 2 years after the death of former chairman Alec Pretlove. With the Hackney & Leyton League engulfed in grief, Hatch Lane found a new home in the strong Essex Sunday Corinthian League.
They took to their new league like ducks to water and were on top of the league’s Senior Division (and unbeaten) before the FA declared the 2020-21 season void due to Covid. The same season they also reached the quarter-final of the London Sunday Junior Cup before losing on penalties to eventual finalists B Young Stars of the Woolwich and Eltham Sunday Football Alliance. When the Essex Sunday Corinthian League resumed the following season, Hatch Lane announced themselves to London football by winning a treble of the Essex Sunday Corinthian League’s Senior Division, the Senior Division Cup, and most impressively of all – it also won the London FA Sunday Challenge Cup at the first attempt. Hatch Lane was the first team from the Essex Sunday Corinthian League to win that trophy for 19 years.
It was no fluke. They had a very tough road to the final en route to winning the cup, and had to face (and beat) Orpington & Bromley District Sunday League champions SE Dons, Croydon Municipal Sunday League champions Spartans, and won the final against Trabzonspor (UK); whose squad included several players who previously won the London FA Sunday Challenge Cup with Sunday legends New Salamis (who now play at Step 4 of the non-league pyramid in the Isthmian League) and Dumlupinar. Not to mention that winning the Essex Sunday Corinthian League required Hatch Lane to finish above FA national Sunday Cup winners Baiteze Squad.
During that cup winning campaign, Hatch Lane scored an outrageously good goal against SE Dons. It was one of the best goals you will see at any level of football – with an intricate passing move across their defence, into midfield, then attack, capped with a brilliant finish.
Despite Hatch Lane’s recent success, playing in the FA Sunday Cup is a new experience for them and the long trip from east London to Norwich will not do them any favours. They will also have a much tougher season that last season as they are no longer a mysterious unknown quantity. Lots of unaccustomed travel this season will make this a challenging season. In addition to their FA Sunday Cup commitments, Hatch Lane will also be defending the London Sunday Challenge Cup they won last season, and also entered the Essex Sunday Premier Cup for the first time; where they have been drawn to play against Rainham Working Men’s Club of the Essex Sunday Football Combination.
Good luck to both debutants.
ROCK FERRY SOCIAL -V- HOME BARGAINS
Date: Sunday October 9, 2022
Venue: Vauxhall Motors FC, Rivacre Park (vanEupen Arena), Rivacre Road, Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, CH66 1NJ
This is the second match preview for round 1 of this season’s FA Sunday Cup.
There is a mistaken assumption from young fans that the teams who make the most noise on/or that are most prominent on, social media are the best teams. They are unaware of Sunday league teams that have been winning trophies since before they were born. This tie features two teams that have been playing for a combined total of 87 years. Given that most Sunday teams have a shelf life of only a few years, and the massive challenge and expense of running an amateur football team, these clubs’ longevity is extraordinary. Both teams are champions of their respective leagues.
Despite playing in different leagues, this is a local derby of sorts as the two clubs are less than 5 miles away from each other, and only a 10 minute ferry journey (across the River Mersey) apart.
ROCK FERRY SOCIAL
The home team Rock Ferry Social from Cheshire is the current champion of the Birkenhead Sunday League (a league it has been playing in throughout the 53 years of its existence). Despite the club’s name it is not actually a social club, and uses the Derby Arms pub as its home base! Billy “Bumps” Jones (the club’s first secretary and later chairman) founded the club in 1969 as “Bedford Hotel”. The club changed its name to “Standard Social” in the 1979-80 season, again to “Kings Social” in the 1980-81 season, before becoming Rock Ferry Social in the 1986-87 season.
The club spent most of its first 4 decades playing in its league’s lower divisions and did not experience success until it won the Division 2 title in the 1984-85 season, followed by the Division 1 title in the 1989-90 season. After almost 40 years of playing in the lower divisions, Rock Ferry Social finally won promotion to the Premier Division in the 2008-09 season. It initially held its own and usually finished in the top half of the table, and was good enough to finish second 4 times in 5 seasons (in 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2017). However, soon afterwards the wheels came off. The club had player shortages (sometimes having only 8 or 9 players on match days) and finished bottom of the Premier Division in the 2019-20 season, after losing every single game it played and scoring only 3 league goals in the entire season. Fortunately for them, the Birkenhead Sunday League did not relegate the team.
“always darkest just before the dawn”
Some say that “it is always darkest just before the dawn”. That was the case for Rock Ferry Social. Despite the disappointment of finishing bottom of the table, the club’s chairman Tony Davies (who a club source described as “Mr Rock Ferry”) kept the club alive, and the following season; appointed former Rock Ferry player Derek “Degzy” Ward as the club’s new manager in 2020. Ward is a retired professional footballer who played for Bury, and after retiring also managed North West Counties League team Cammell Laird FC, back when they were playing in Division 1 of the Northern Premier League (Step 4).
The Degzy Ward Years
Ward’s impact was immediate. He refreshed the team by bringing in new players, and in his first season as manager, the club finished 3rd in the 2020-21 season. The following season Ward did even better and made history by leading the club to the first Premier Division championship in its 53 year history.
The club also started this season well by winning the Joey Griffiths Memorial Inter-League Trophy; after beating the wonderfully named Wallasey Sunday League champions JASGA (“Jimmy Armstrong’s Super Green Army”) FC 5-0. This cup is an inter-league trophy between the champions of the Birkenhead Sunday League and the Wallasey Sunday League.
Rock Ferry Social is returning to the FA Sunday Cup after a 5 year hiatus. It last played in this cup in the 2017-2018 season, during which it reached round 2 but lost 4-2 to 2015 and 2020 FA Sunday Cup winners Campfield. Rock Ferry Social will have its work cut out against the champions of a rival league just across the River Mersey.
Rock Ferry Social – Previous FA Sunday Cup Performances
- Round 1: West Kirby (Birkenhead Sunday League) v Rock Ferry Social (1-5)
- Round 2: Rock Ferry Social v Campfield (Liverpool Business Houses League) (2-4) – at Cammell Laird FC
Billingham The Merlin (Stockton Sunday League) v Rock Ferry Social (at Wolviston) – Walkover for Billingham: match not played – Rock Ferry removed from competition
All About the Nash
Death, taxes, and Liverpool teams in the FA Sunday Cup final. For Liverpool teams, it is all about “The Nash”. Liverpool teams have a remarkable record in this competition. 11 of the last 16 FA Sunday Cup winners were from either Liverpool or Durham County. Ever since Lobster FC became the first team from Liverpool to win the FA Sunday Cup 43 years ago in 1979, Liverpool teams have prioritised this cup with a holy grail like passion that borders on obsession. Lobster’s victory started an amazing sequence of Liverpool success where for 5 consecutive years, teams from Liverpool won the competition that scousers call “The Nash”. For them it is the Champions League of Sunday football. Oddly, Liverpool FC’s (the professional football team!) era of dominance in English professional football also overlapped with this era of Liverpool dominance in the FA Sunday Cup. Liverpool won the English football championship in 4 of the 5 successive seasons that Liverpool teams won the FA Sunday Cup. Those 5 cup wins were not isolated. That era of Liverpool success has continued into the present era as Campfield won the cup in 2015 and 2020.
However, Liverpool’s dominance is being threatened after two teams from London played in last season’s final. Campfield also folded at the end of last season. If Liverpool is to win this cup again, its best chance lies with the current champions of the Liverpool Business Houses League.
46 years ago a Liverpool businessman named Tom Morris opened a shop called Home and Bargains in Liverpool. Back in 1976, Morris was only 21 years old. Today he is a multi-billionaire and the shop he opened now generates £2.5 billion in revenue, has over 500 branches, and over 20,000 employees. The company also sponsors football teams such as Bolton Wanderers, Tranmere Rovers, and….a Sunday football team named Home Bargains FC!
Home Bargains started playing in 1988 as a youth team called St Brendan’s Juniors. The club eventually changed its name (twice) and followed its sponsor by changing its name to “Home and Bargains” and later condensing it to Home Bargains. It has been managed for several years by father and son duo Jim and James Vaughan (who serve as the club’s chairman and secretary).
Home Bargains is the current champion of the Liverpool Business Houses League and has good pedigree in this competition. It has been entering this cup for the past 18 years and was good enough to reach the semi-final in 2017. However, for the second season in a row, the draw was not kind to them. Last season, Home Bargains faced the cup holders Campfield in round 1, and this season they will face a fellow reigning league champion from their area.
Liverpool teams often claim that the Liverpool Business Houses League is the strongest Sunday league in the entire country. Prior experience matters in this competition. If “The Bargain” (as they are nicknamed) manage to get past Rock Ferry Social, they will be confident of going far in this competition, as they have been playing in it since 2004.
Home Bargains – Recent FA Sunday Cup Performances
- Round 1: Oakenshaw 0 v Home Bargains 11 (at Bradford Park Avenue)
- Round 2: Home Bargains 6 v Linthwaite 1 (at Alder Sports & Social Club)
- Round 3: Dock AFC (Birkenhead Sunday League) v Home Bargains 1 (at Vauxhall Motors)
Round 1: Home Bargains 0 v Sunderland Southwick 1 (Sunderland Sunday League) – at Alder Sports & Social Club
- Round 1: Home Bargains 3 v Linthwaite 2 (Heavy Woollen Sunday League) – at Alder Sports & Social Club)
- Round 2: Pineapple (Liverpool Business Houses League) 1 v Home Bargains 3 (AET, 1-1 at FT) – at South Liverpool FC
- Round 1: bye
- Round 2: Home & Bargain 4 v Allerton 0 (Liverpool Business House League) – at Alder Sports & Social Club
- Round 3: Wallsend New Rising Sun (North East Sunday League) 2 v Home & Bargain 3 (AET (2-2 at FT)
- Round 4: Attenborough Cavaliers 0 (Long Eaton Sunday League) v Home & Bargain 4 – at Radford FC
- Quarter-Final: Home & Bargain 2 v Ferrybridge Progressive 1 (Castleford & District Sunday FA League – at Alder Sports & Social Club
- Semi-Final Home & Bargain 1 v Hardwick Social (Stockton Sunday League) 3 – at Guiseley FC