I have been writing a series of articles on the dark horse teams competing in this season’s FA Sunday Cup. From that perspective, readers might be wondering why I consider a team that got trounced 0-4 in the first game it ever played to be a contender to win a nationwide football tournament. Well, that 0-4 loss was 16 months and 35 games ago. It was also the last time they lost a game. After the humiliating loss in its first game, Grand made sure it never happened again and simply forgot how to lose.
16 months after that defeat to the wonderfully named Bayern Neverlusen (who have since moved to Saturday football in Division 3 (West) of the Kent County League), Grand Athletic were on top of the London Sunday football mountain as the champions of the Metropolitan Sunday League and after winning the London FA Sunday Challenge Cup. What makes Grand’s achievement so special is that they won their league and a London county cup at the first attempt – in their first season as a club. If Grand also win the FA Sunday Cup at the first attempt, it will be a brilliant first two seasons for them.
The social media bubble that YouTube teams exist in means that they often have a blind spot regarding teams that are not vocal on social media. Before SE Dons (who are probably the most prominent of the YouTube teams) played Grand Athletic in the quarter-final of last season’s London FA Sunday Challenge Cup, I was very surprised when the Dons’ co-founder Andrew McHugh said “We don’t know too much about them”. The Dons had been telling anyone who would listen that they were the best Sunday team in the country, but did not think it pertinent to learn about their opponents in the last 8 of a city wide football tournament. This myopia allowed Grand Athletic to fly under the radar.
Grand Athletic was originally founded as a brand extension by their chairmen Juevan Spencer and Jordan Davis. In 2019, Spencer and Davis launched a luxury chauffeur company called Grand Motion. Spencer is also a football man who then was playing as a defender for semi-professional Isthmian Premier League team Kingstonian (less than a month ago, Spencer transferred to another Isthmian Premier League team – Lewes FC). The two business partners also became football partners by forming Grand Athletic and entering the team into the Premier Division of the Metropolitan Sunday League.
Spencer’s semi-professional football career meant that he had many contacts in football. Manchester United full-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka is the club’s ambassador.
Spencer recruited several good players who in the words of one of Grand’s coaches were “losing their love for football”. For such players “kicking ball with their mates on a Sunday was just the thing to bring back the love for the sport”.
They also ensured that the club would be well coached by hiring Vincent Kayala and Ahmet Akdag to be the club’s co-managers. Akdag has good coaching pedigree. He was formerly a scout and youth team coach at Premier League clubs such as Crystal Palace and Fulham, and had also coached in semi-professional Saturday football in the Combined Counties League. Akdag is a tough man. The circumstances of his life bred that toughness.
“Football Gives People Opportunities”
Without kicking a ball, Grand Athletic is in the last 32 of the FA Sunday Cup and is potentially 4 games away from reaching the final of the biggest competition in English Sunday football. Grand’s opponent’s in round 1 (North End Cosmos FC of the Portsmouth Sunday League) withdrew from the competition; thereby giving Grand a bye into round 2. Ironically, Grand’s opponents in round 2 also reached that stage without kicking a ball. Priory Sports – the champions of the Chelmsford Sunday League also received a bye into round 2; after their opponents Rouge 21 of the Harlow Sunday League withdrew after Covid infections among its squad. Grand and Priory are at opposite ends of the historical spectrum. While Grand is only 1 year old, Priory Sports in its 50th year as a football club.
It may sound outlandish to place a team with only one full season of playing together among the favourites in a competition that features other clubs (such as Oyster Martrys, Club Lewsey, WHTDSOB, and Highgate Albion) who have been playing for decades. However, a team that has only ever lost one game in its history (and that was the first game it played!) cannot be overlooked.
Grand Athletic has serious quality (and even an international footballer!) in its squad. Although Kadell Daniel was born in south London, he also plays for the Guyana international football team. Daniel was an important player in Grand’s successful first season but has been largely absent this season. However, Grand is far from a one man team.
Striker Nick Dembele plays semi-professionally for Gosport Borough in the Premier Division (South) of the Southern League (Step 3). Other players who have played semi-professionally at a high standard include burly striker Nathaniel Pinney, and Kieran Scantlebury who play for Corinthian Casuals and Walton Casuals respectively in the Premier Division of the Isthmian League. Trey Masikini (Burgess Hill Town FC) and Fabian O’Brien (Chessington & Hook United) also have good senior football experience.
Although he has not played at as high a level as some of his team-mates, left back Jamal Farid has a claim to fame that very few amateur footballers have: he nutmegged a World Cup, Champions League, La Liga, and Serie A winner! Farid was in Celtic’s academy before being released as a boy, but he gained fame after video footage of him nutmegging former Real Madrid and Brazil player Kaka during a match went viral.
“No dream is too big”
With such quality in his squad, Akdag is understandably confident. He told me:
“I believe with the quality of the squad we currently have no dream is too big…Even better yet the unity and chemistry this squad portray on and off the pitch gives us a massive advantage…”
Grand Athletic’s FA Sunday Cup campaign is significant not only for the club, but also because it puts the famous Metropolitan Sunday League back on the football map.
The Great History of the Metropolitan Sunday League
Fans and teams of the Orpington & Bromley District Sunday League routinely claim that their league is the best in London and Kent. Like Muhammad Ali, they repeated the mantra of being the best so many times that everyone accepted it as fact. However, it is often forgotten that the winners of the London FA Sunday Challenge Cup in the past two seasons came from the Metropolitan Sunday League.
The 88 year old league was one of the strongest (if not the strongest) Sunday leagues in London between the 1950s-1980s. Although most of its current teams are based in south-east London, in its early days its teams came from north and south of the River Thames (as far north as Islington and King’s Cross).
Senior Saturday football club Erith Town of the Southern Counties East League’s Premier Division (Step 5) started life in 1959 as a Sunday team in the Metropolitan Sunday League called Woolwich Town (until it changed its name to Erith Town in 1997). Over the decades the Metropolitan Sunday League has been the home of brilliant Sunday football teams such as Convoys, Eltham Hill, Greenwich Borough, Libra, Oxford Road Social, Santogee 66, Thanet, Valley Celtic, and 279 Sports.
Grand is still unbeaten this season. If it can win the FA Sunday Cup at the first attempt, it will add its name to the Metropolitan Sunday League’s list of all time greats.
Priory Sports v Grand Athletic (Sunday January 16, 2022 at Witham Town FC)
Grand Athletic Honours List:
Metropolitan Sunday League champions (2020-2021)
London FA Sunday Challenge Cup winners (2020-2021)
The CAF Africa Cup of Nations tournament will start next weekend. Who are the favourites to win it? Before I address that question, let me deal with the usual recreational European complaining about the AFCON’s timing.
Why is the AFCON played “in the middle of the season”?
The AFCON is played in the middle of the European season, not the African season. Many African football leagues are actually “closed” at this time of year.
The AFCON has been played at this time of year for 65 years (i.e. for the entire lifetime of every single Premier League manager, coach, and player), yet on the eve of each AFCON, Premier League clubs become exceptionally surprised about their African players having to play in the AFCON in January and February (even though this has always been the case).
Why Can’t the AFCON be played “at the end of the season”?
For several reasons. Here are a few:
- Climate: the AFCON is played early in the year because in most parts of Africa, the weather in June-August is either too unbearably hot (above 104 Fahrenheit) or is smack bang in the middle of the rainy season. When I say “rainy season”, I do not mean the annoying “spittle” like rain and breeze that Brits complain about. I mean apocalyptic monsoon rain of biblical proportions that would send a house floating down the road into a neighbouring town if its foundations are a bit dodgy.
- Commercial reasons: if the AFCON is moved to the summer, it would clash with at least one of the World Cup, Olympics, Euros, or Copa America every 2 years – meaning that it would lose TV audience share and the resulting revenues.
Also, the last AFCON (2019) was played in the European summer (to appease the whining of European fans and coaches who spent decades complaining about how inconvenient it was for them to lose their African players for 4 or so club games in a 50-60 European season). So CAF moved the tournament to after the end of the European season to please European clubs. After European fans and coaches got what they wanted, they changed their whining tune to instead complain that players had just finished a gruelling 60 game season in Europe and they did not want their players being asked to play more games in desert like heat after a draining season.
So enough with the whining, and back to the football…
Who is the Best Team in Africa?
Algeria are the reigning African champions. Algeria has been unbeaten for 36 games (a streak that goes back 3 years). After failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, Algeria have sorted themselves out tactically and organisationally. The usual patronising European tropes about “naïve” African defending cannot be throw at Algeria. They are defensively streetwise. Algeria conceded only one goal from open play throughout the last AFCON tournament. I do not have a problem with Algeria’s attritional style of play (when Italy win trophies with dour defensive football, people give it fancy names like “catenaccio”). It is not pretty on the eyes, but it was effective.
Algeria also have impressive strength in depth and have the luxury of being able to call on the very talented Adam Ounas of Napoli to come off the bench and make devastating game changing runs against tired defenders. Ounas would start for most other countries – but has the misfortune of playing for the same country and in the same position as Riyad Mahrez. Up front, Algeria also has the impressive Baghdad Bounedjah; a relentless running, constantly pressing, striker who must be an utter nightmare for defenders. He simply does not give defenders a moment’s respite with his constant movement and chatter at them and referees. He is one of those players that drama follows like bees to honey. He averages over a goal a game for his club side Al Sadd. You may think “it is only Saudi Arabian football”, but any player that can score almost 130 goals in only 108 games – at any level of professional football, must be doing something right.
On paper, Algeria should be the favourites. However, I do not think they will win it as history is against them. In the 32 AFCON tournaments to date, only 3 teams have ever retained the trophy (Ghana won it in 1963 and 1965, Cameroon in 2000 and 2002, and Egypt in 2006, 2008, and 2010). Furthermore, when the tournament is hosted in West Africa, rarely does a team from outside West Africa win it. Only one north African team has ever won the AFCON in West Africa (Egypt won it in Burkina Faso in 1998 and in Ghana in 2008). Algeria has to climb a mountain and buck historical trends in order to retain the trophy and win in West Africa.
The Other Contenders
So if Algeria is unlikely to keep hold of the trophy, who is likely to take it from them? In the AFCON, home advantage is massive. 11 (34%) of the 32 AFCON tournaments have been won by the host team. In this regard, although the host nation Cameroon is not among the favourites on paper, do not rule out the possibility of home advantage carrying them far in the tournament.
Certainties in life: death, taxes, and Nigeria in the AFCON semi-final! Nigeria is the neighbouring country to Cameroon. The rivalry between the West African neighbours is one of the biggest in the whole continent (akin to England v Germany in Europe). Nigeria has a remarkable record of progression to the AFCON semi-finals. It has reached the semi-final 15 times in the last 18 AFCON tournaments it has played in. That means that Nigeria reaches the semi-finals in an astonishing 83% of tournaments. Given the rivalry between Nigeria and Cameroon, Nigeria would love to rub their local rival’s nose in it by winning the AFCON on Cameroonian soil. However, Nigeria’s chances of success have been damaged by a mix of administrative inefficiency by the Nigerian Football Federation and bad luck that is likely to leave them blunt in attack.
Firstly, Nigeria has once again fired its coach Gernot Rohr on the eve of a major tournament (as it also did immediately prior to the 1998, 2002, and 2010 World Cups and 2006 AFCON). None of these pre-tournament sackings caused a “new manager” bounce. Nigeria seems to have shot itself in the foot once again. The sacking is all the more strange when one considers that the dismissed Rohr had a 65% win record (one of the highest win records of all Nigerian coaches) and had assembled a squad with a young core that could stay together for the next 5-8 years. Then on top of that, the NFF allowed Watford to exploit bureaucratic regulations to avoid releasing in-form striker Emmanuel Dennis. Nigeria’s star striker Victor Osimhen of Napoli also opted out of the tournament after injury issues and contracting Covid. With Villareal winger Samuel Chukwueze returning from a long term injury, that leaves Nigeria having to select its third and fourth choice attackers.
Morocco were excellent at the last World Cup and might be the best team to ever finish bottom of a World Cup group. The refereeing (if it deserves the name) in their final group game against Spain was the closest thing to matching fixing I have ever seen on live television.
Technically, very few teams in Africa can live with Morocco’s easy on the eye “pass it and move” pretty triangles. It says much for them when the greatest criticism I can level at them is that they pass it too much.
The team is made up mostly of players of Moroccan descent who were born and/or raised in France. In goal they have Sevilla’s Yassine Bounou, and their defence includes Achraf Hakimi of PSG and Romain Saiss of Wolves. However the attacking positions will be without Hakim Ziyech of Chelsea after Morocco’s coach Vahid Halihodzic sensationally omitted Ziyech for disciplinary reasons. Expect Morocco to still be active at the business end of the tournament. However, I do not think they will win it – due to the same historical reasons I identified above regarding Algeria.
Senegal is in danger of becoming the Portugal or Ivory Coast of this generation: a team labelled a “golden generation” but that never wins a trophy. Senegal came so close to winning the AFCON 2 years ago but lost a close final 0-1 to Algeria. This might be the last chance for this group of players.
Senegal’s team has a strong spine: with Chelsea’s Edouard Mendy in goal, Kalidou Koulibaly of Napoli, Abdou Diallo of PSG, and Checkou Kouyate of Crystal Palace in defence, Idrissa Gueye of PSG and Nemphalys Mendy of Leicester in midfield, and Sadio Mane, Ismaila Sarr, and Keita Balde in attack.
They are also well coached by former Senega international defender Aliou Cisse who was a member of the Senegal squad that shocked then world champions France at the 1998 World Cup.
What do the ruins of a priory built 771 years ago have to do with the FA Sunday Cup? Keep reading and find out…
The Rise and Decline of Essex
In the early days of the FA Sunday Cup, Essex was the competition’s dominant county, and Essex teams reached 4 of the first 6 finals. Since then, Essex’s fortunes have declined and no team from Essex has won the FA Sunday Cup for over 37 years (when Lee Chapel North won it in 1984). If Essex is to break its cup hoodoo this season, one of its small pool of two entrants has to do it for them.
While many of the clubs competing in this season’s FA Sunday Cup are from Britain’s major metropolitan centres such as London, Liverpool, and Birmingham, one of the outsiders is from a small Essex village with a population of only 2000 people. The village of Bicknacre is located approximately 6 miles south-east of Chelmsford.
The Social Media Bubble
Since many modern grassroots football teams gain most of their popularity from social media, such clubs and their fans often exist in a social and historical bubble that behaves almost as if a football team does not exist if it is not overly active or popular on social media. Yet there are many successful teams that quietly go about their business without making noise online.
Fifty years ago, a group of young men from The White Swan pub on Main Road in Bicknacre founded a football team which they named after the pub as White Swan FC. The pub’s owners Chas and Doreen Arrowsmith supported the team. Initially, the team was more social than competitive, and spent its first year playing friendly matches. In the 1973-74 season the team started playing competitively for the first time and joined Division 3 of the Maldon Sunday League. The team won the Division 3 championship under the leadership of its first ever Captain, Frank Moss. The following season, the team expanded by adding and entering a reserve team in Division 5 of the Maldon Sunday League.
Monks and Ruins
You are probably still wondering “I thought you said this article had something to do with an 865 year old priory?!” Well, it does. One of Bicknacre’s landmarks is the ruins and rubble of an ancient priory for monks that was built around 1250. Although the last monk there died over 500 years ago in 1507, in 1976 White Swan FC made a symbolic link with its village’s ancient monastic history by changing its name to “Priory Sports”. That is the name by which it has since been known for over 45 years. An image of the priory’s ruins is even incorporated into the club’s kit on their official crest.
In 1982, Priory Sports’ first ream transferred to Division 3 of the Chelmsford Sunday League and the reserve team joined them the following year in Division 6 of the same league. Since then, the club has had a lot of success and the first team now plays in the Premier Division of the Chelmsford Sunday League and the reserves play a division below them in Division 1.
The Man Behind the Club
In this era of social media attention seeking, Priory Sports is a rarity. It might not be the best team competing in this season’s FA Sunday Cup, but there are unlikely to be many better run teams. The team does not have a large social media presence and does not shout on YouTube, yet it is one of Essex’s most successful football teams. Much of Priory Sports’ longevity can be attributed to one man: Maurice Carter. People like Carter are simultaneously essential and rare nowadays in grassroots football. Without people like him, grassroots football clubs and leagues would not have longevity.
Carter is Priory Sports’ living, breathing, institutional memory. He has dedicated his life to grassroots football, and he and Priory Sports are virtually inseparable. Carter has held every conceivable position with the club. Over the past 46 years he has served the club as player, player-manager, manager, assistant manager, social secretary, vice-chairman, and finally he has been the club’s chairman for the past 26 years. He has also been a member of the Chelmsford Sunday League’s committee for 13 years and is currently the league’s Vice-President. In 2020, the Essex FA gave Carter an Award of Merit for his 40 years of service to football in the county.
In his youth, Carter was also a good player that played for a successful team called Bakers Arms that won the Chelmsford Sunday League 5 times in a row in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He also played for Woodham Town and Moulsham Lodge.
“They are looking down upon us with their continued and ever loyal support”
Doreen and Chas Arrowsmith (the publicans who provided the base from which the team was born) continued to support the club and were involved with it until they passed away in 2013 and 2017 respectively. The club held them dearly and the club’s current secretary Nigel Bullen-Bell told me that the Arrowsmiths “are looking down upon us with their continued and ever loyal support”.
There is a great deal of continuity at the club too. The current first team manager Grant Hill has also played for, and captained, the club. While many teams trot out the old cliché of being “a family club”, this is literally true for Priory Sports. The club has been “handed down” across generations as the sons of some of its original players now play for the club and also support it behind the scenes.
Are They Any Good Then?
You may be wondering: “Priory Sports has great history and is a well-run club, but are they actually any good?!” The haul of trophies listed at the end of this article should answer that question. Priory Sports has been the dominant team in the Chelmsford Sunday League for the last 15 years and has won the league’s Premier Division 6 times in the last 9 years. Its Reserve team has also been successful and won Division 1 of the Chelmsford Sunday League the last three seasons in a row. The club’s first and reserve teams completed league doubles by winning their respective divisions in the last three consecutive seasons. Priory Sports has also reached the final of the Essex FA Premier Cup three times in the past seven years (winning it in 2014 and 2018, and unfortunately was unable to play in the 2020 final which was suspended due to Covid).
This season Priory is already top of the Chelmsford Sunday League (as usual!) and is 6 points ahead of the team in second place.
While Priory Sports has dominated its own league, how has it performed against teams from other areas of the country? It has entered the FA Sunday Cup on 10 occasions (including the last 5 seasons). Priory’s best performance in the FA Sunday Cup was in the 2014-15 season; when it reached the last 16 before losing 0-3 to North London Olympians of the Harrow Sunday Challenge League in January 2015. It reached round 3 of last season’s FA Sunday Cup before running into the rampant unbeaten leaders of the Hackney & Leyton League Sporting Club de Mundial who beat Priory 2-0.
Although the club’s officials were coy about the quality of their squad, some of their players have played semi-professionally for Step 4 Saturday team Witham Town (who play in Division 1 (North) of the Isthmian League). Priory plays its FA Sunday Cup matches at Witham Town’s Simarco Stadium on Spa Road in Witham. The link with Witham Town is not limited to Priory’s playing personnel. Priory’s former manager Adam Flint is also a former manager of Witham Town. Aside from the Witham alumni in Priory’s squad, some of its other players have played at a good standard. One of its players has played in the 2nd round proper of the FA Cup (the Saturday version) and Isaac Aubynn is also experienced at this level and has played for several Essex Saturday clubs such as Burnham Ramblers and Barkingside.
So does the team believe it has the quality to go far in or win the FA Sunday Cup? Nigel Bullen-Bell told me:
“Yes definitely. Every time we have been fortunate enough to participate in the cup we have gained valuable experience. Hopefully we can get some home draws along the way and use our experience we have gained previously to progress all the way. Anything can happen in cup football and we’re excited to get going with the competition. travelling around the country and playing a number of top Sunday League sides.”
Priory Sports’ opponents in round 1 of this season’s FA Sunday Cup are at the opposite end of the historical spectrum. While Priory has 5 decades of history, its opponent Rouge 21 is a brand new team playing its first season in the Harlow Sunday League. The game has already been postponed twice: firstly due to Britain’s notoriously uncooperative weather, and most recently due to Covid infections among Rouge 21’s squad.
When (or if!) the postponed game takes place, Priory will have their hands full. Rouge 21’s record this season reads: played 12, won 11, scored 73, lost 1, drawn 0. Some of Rouge’s players have also played at a good standard in the FA Vase, Essex Senior League, and also in Essex FA county cup finals.
Essex is simultaneously blessed and cursed by having its only two entrants in the FA Sunday Cup being drawn against each other in round 1. On the one hand it means that 50% of Essex’s representatives will be eliminated in round 1. On the other hand, it guarantees continued Essex presence in round 2. It will then be left to the winning team to fly the flag alone for Essex and try to end its 37 year drought in this competition.
PRIORY SPORTS HONOURS:
Essex FA Sunday Premier Cup winners (2 times): 2014, 2018 (2020 finalists – unplayed)
Chelmsford Sunday League:
- Premier Division champions (9 times): 1991-92, 2005-06, 2006-07, 2011-12, 2013-14, 2014-15, 2017-18, 2018-19, 2020-21
- Division 1 winners (5 times): 1985-86, 1998-99, 2001-02, 2017-18*, 2018-19* (*last two championship wins were by Priory Sports’ Reserve team)
FA Sunday Cup, Round 2 Draw
(Games to be played on Sunday January 16, 2022)
- I mentioned before that almost 30% of the first round games featured local league derbies between teams in the same division as each other. Since the draw for round 2 was again regionalized, it (again!) features several local derbies between teams in the same league as each other. The league derbies include 4 of Liverpool’s remaining 6 teams having to play each other: Mayfair –v- Custys, and Dock AFC will play the winner of the postponed Home Bargains –v-Campfield match.
- Another “derby” of sorts sees the two most prominent “YouTube teams” Baiteze Squad and SE Dons playing each other – again. Although they are not in the same league, these two London teams play each other every season in special “YouTube attraction” matches.
- There is also a Bedfordshire derby between Wixams Wanderers and Club Lewsey. Both teams used to play in the North Home Counties Sunday League (back when Wixam was known as AC Sportsman).
- This season’s FA Sunday Cup may become a series of local games. Teams do not enter this competition to play against teams they already play 3-4 times a season anyway.
- With all these derbies, we may end up in a situation where teams get to the quarter-final without playing a team from outside their leagues.
|FA Sunday Cup – Round 2 Draw|
|Burradon & New Fordley –v- Newton Aycliffe Iron Horse or Murton Colliery|
|WHTDSOB –v- Middlesbrough Dormans|
|Belle Vue Rovers –v- Peterlee Catholic Club|
|Main Line Social or Oakenshaw –v- AFC West Hull Gunners|
|Scawthorpe Athletic –v- Westwood Park|
|Mayfair –v- Custys|
|Codsall Legion Sundats –v- Oyster Martyrs|
|Dock AFC–v- Home Bargains or Campfield|
|Sporting Dynamo –v- Poet Young Boys|
|Austin Ex Apprentices –v- Birstall Stamford|
|Wixams Wanderers –v- Club Lewsey|
|Falcons–v- Skew Bridge or Highgate Albion|
|Baiteze Squad –v- South-East Dons|
|Priory Sports or Rouge 21 –v- Grand Athletic|
|St Joseph’s (Watford) –v- North London Olympians|
|Burghfield –v- Banstead Rovers|
Sunday December 5, 2021
- The FA will make the draw for round 2 tomorrow (Monday December 6, 2021) at 1pm.
- 5 games were postponed due to the recent bad weather in England (waterlogged pitches).
- 3 teams have withdrawn – resulting in walkover advancements for Westwood Park, Oyster Martyrs, and Grand Athletic. Ironically Oyster was admitted to this cup as a replacement entry for another team that withdrew. Now Oyster has advanced to round 2 without kicking a ball.
- The notable result of the round is last season’s finalists St Joseph’s (Luton) being eliminated by local rivals Club Lewsey. See below for a video of Lewsey’s BJ Christie opening the scoring with a thunderous long range strike. St Joseph’s’ exit pre-empts the possibility of a confusing future match between them and another team with the same! (St Joseph’s of the Watford Sunday League)
|Peterlee Catholic Club –v- Sunderland The Lansdowne||2-2 (Peterlee CC won 5-3 on penalties)|
|Burradon & New Fordley –v- Hazlerigg Victory||5-1|
|Newton Aycliffe Iron Horse –v- Murton Colliery||postponed|
|Belle Vue Rovers –v- Boro Walkers||4-0|
|Middlesbrough Dormans –v-Chapeltown||1-0|
|WHTDSOB –v- Lion O’Malley||3-1|
|Scawthorpe Athletic –v- RHP Sports & Social||4-0|
|Main Line Social –v- Oakenshaw||postponed|
|LIV Supplies –v- AFC West Hull Gunners||1-3|
|Home Bargains –v- Campfield||postponed|
|Queens Park –v- Mayfair||1-6|
|Pineapple –v- Custys||0-3|
|Westwood Park –v- Linthwaite Hounds||Home walkover due to Linthwaite’s withdrawal|
|Melling Victoria –v- Dock AFC||2-3|
|Netherton –v- Codsall Legion Sundats||2-2 (Codsall won 4-3 on penalties)|
|Oyster Martyrs –v-SSS Lions||Home walkover due to SSS’ withdrawal|
|FC Lizard –v- Austin Ex Apprentices||0-9|
|Sileby Athletic –v- Sporting Dynamo||2-3|
|Sporting Loughborough –v- Poet Young Boys||1-4|
|Long Whattton –v- Birstall Stamford||2-4|
|Priory Sports –v- Rouge 21||postponed|
|Baiteze Squad –v- Borussia Martlesham||0-0 (Baiteze won 5-4 on penalties)|
|Royston Rovers –v- Falcons||2-3|
|Wixams Wanderers –v- MK Gallacticos||3-1|
|Skew Bridge –v- Highgate Albion||postponed|
|St Joseph’s (Luton) –v- Club Lewsey||3-3 (Lewsey won 5-4 on penalties)|
|Flaunden –v- St Joseph’s (Watford)||1-2|
|North London Olympians –v- Greater Leys||6-1|
|Singh Sabha Slough –v- Burghfield||3-4|
|Lambeth All Stars –v- South-East Dons||0-2|
|Chatham Town SR –v- Banstead Rovers||1-3|
|Grand Athletic –v- North End Cosmos||Home walkover|
This is the concluding part of my series of articles on this season’s FA Sunday Cup (which will start next Sunday: December 5). It continues from part 1 and part 2 to focus on an overlooked FA competition that does not get the attention it deserves. For those unfamiliar with it, the FA Sunday Cup is a nationwide cup competition for English Sunday teams. It is like the Champions League of Sunday football, and features the best Sunday teams from across England. A bystander who watched a game in this competition some years ago confessed: “I was very, very, very shocked just how good the football was”.
Since almost 30% of the first round games feature local league derbies between teams in the same division as each other, in this article I will focus on the biggest of those derbies in Liverpool, London, and Hartlepool.
The first previewed game features two teams from the Liverpool Business Houses League that are nicknamed “The Bargain” and “Campy“.
HOME BARGAINS –v- CAMPFIELD – THE LIVERPOOL DERBY
Date: Sunday December 5, 2021
Venue: Alder Sports & Social Club, Alder Road, Liverpool L12 2AY
All About the Nash
Death, taxes, and Liverpool teams in the FA Sunday Cup final. For Liverpool teams, it is all about “The Nash”. If you are a betting person – you could probably earn good money by laying a bet right now that one of these two teams will reach the FA Sunday Cup quarter-final – at least. Ever since Lobster FC became the first team from Liverpool to win the FA Sunday Cup 42 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. 11 of the last 15 FA Sunday Cup winners were from either Liverpool or Durham County.
The away team in this all Liverpool tie: Campfied, is the current holder of the FA Sunday Cup. It begins its cup defence with a tough test against its Liverpool Business Houses League rivals Home Bargains.
45 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 condensing its name from Home and Bargains 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 a former champion of the Liverpool Business Houses League and has good pedigree in this competition. It was good enough to reach the semi-final in 2017. However, this season’s draw was not kind to them. Like the other teams involved in league derbies in round 1, they would have preferred to play someone from outside their league. Not only does Home Bargains face a league rival, but they will also face the cup holders.
Campfield are the current FA Sunday Cup holders, and one of the few teams to have won the competition twice. Campfield are also the champions of the Liverpool Business Houses League (whose teams boast that their league is the strongest Sunday league in the entire country).
Campfield was formerly known as Thirly FC but renamed itself Campfield since the club’s players usually went back to drink at the Old Campfield pub on Heyworth Street in Liverpool after games. The Campfield pub landlord Robert “Bobby” Hannah sponsored the team. Although the Campfield pub closed in 2017 and is now a supermarket, the club retained the Campfield name.
Campfield won the FA Sunday Cup for the second time in its history in May this year. Only one team has ever won the FA Sunday Cup more than twice. Campfield’s task to become only the second ever three-time winner has been made harder by the departure of the man who scored the winning goal for them in last season’s final. Campfield’s star striker Elliott Nevitt became a professional footballer and signed a contract with Tranmere Rovers. Unfortunately, this Liverpool derby will claim one of these two excellent teams (both of whom are among the favourites) as a victim.
LAMBETH ALL STARS –V- SOUTH EAST DONS (THE SOUTH LONDON DERBY)
Date: Sunday December 5, 2021
Venue: Fisher FC, St Paul’s Sports Ground, Salter Road, London SE16 5DS (host stadium’s club plays at Step 5 of the National League System in the Premier Division of the Southern Counties East League)
This league derby is between the two teams that finished first and second in the Orpington & Bromley District Sunday League (OBDSFL) last season. It does not need much promotion since both teams are in the business of self promotion. While SE Dons is probably the most well known of the “YouTube teams” that have arisen in recent years, Lambeth are newcomers to the business of filming and promoting their games online.
In the decade between 2008 and 2018, if anyone asked who was the best Sunday football team in London, the answer was undisputed: New Salamis. The Greek-Cypriot team that won the London Sunday Challenge Cup 6 times in 10 seasons and reached the FA Sunday Cup final twice in a row, were head and shoulders above everyone else. Since New Salamis departed Sunday football to join the Saturday National League System (where they are currently riding high at Step 5 in the Premier Division of the Spartan South Midlands League) there has been no outstanding contender to succeed them as London’s best. These two teams consider themselves the lineal successors to New Salamis’ title as the best. Since so much is known and written about SE Dons, I will start with Lambeth.
Lambeth All Stars
Lambeth All Stars is not a new team. It has been around for almost 40 years and has won the Morden & District League 5 times and the Surrey FA Sunday Premier Cup twice. It has been entering the FA Sunday Cup for over a decade but has never made it past round 3.
The club also had a youth team with links to professional clubs, and a women’s team. When Omari “Winja” Hibbert took over as the club’s player-manager 2 years ago, he rebooted it. He changed the club’s players, sponsor, league, social media branding, and joined the growing legion of “YouTube teams”. He even ditched the club’s traditional black and blue striped kit for a new eye catching purple trim.
However, some players were too good not to survive the cull. Lambeth’s players are friends with professional footballers that they grew up with in south London (such as Crystal Palace’s Wilfried Zaha). Former Premier League (and Sunderland) player Nyron Nosworthy also played for Lambeth for several years.
“The Unbeaten v The Undefeated”
Hibbert did more than just rebrand the club. He turned it into one of the best teams in London. When Lambeth All Stars and SE Dons first played each other in the quarter-final of the London Sunday Challenge Cup in December 2019, the reputation of the two unbeaten teams was so big that it was the biggest and most eagerly anticipated grassroots match in London for several years. Ever eager to create a story, the teams billed the match between the two undefeated teams as “The Unbeaten v The Undefeated”.
Over 500 hundred fans turned up to watch the game at the Coldharbour Leisure Center in south-east London. Lambeth’s player-manager “Winja” Hibbert scored 2 goals as Lambeth brushed the Dons aside in an emphatic 3-0 away win.
“they passed it round us like we were 11 mannequins on the pitch”
That victory was part of an amazing winning sequence for Lambeth during which they almost forgot how to lose; culminating in them winning the London Sunday Challenge Cup in 2020 and going undefeated in league games for over 2 years between March 2019 and April 2020. During this unbeaten run, they dished out a 9-1 shellacking to Barneshurst (of the Woolwich & Eltham Sunday Football Alliance) in round 1 of the 2019 London Sunday Challenge Cup that led one of Barnehurst’s players to admit:
“They didn’t just bash us, it was a non contest, they passed it round us like we were 11 mannequins on the pitch”
After winning the London FA’s top Sunday county cup, Lambeth were on course for a quadruple in 2020. They were top of the OBDSFL with a 100% record and were also through to two other cup finals. They were so confident that they even played two matches in different leagues on the same day that they had a cup final!
On the morning of the George Harley cup final on October 18, 2020, they played and beat FC Bickley 7-2 in an OBDSFL league game at the Queen Mary University sports ground in Chislehurst. After that game, they left Chislehurst and travelled to Beckenham Town FC to play in the Metropolitan Sunday League’s George Harley Cup final against AFC Brixton on the same day. They had reached that cup final before transferring from the Metropolitan Sunday League to the OBDSFL. Yet they won the cup final in a league they were no longer even a member of!
Lambeth had also reached the finals of the Surrey FA’s Sunday Premier Cup and the Bill Braisted Memorial Trophy. However, they were unable to complete the trophy quadruple as these competitions were suspended due to Covid.
Lambeth has more experience in the FA Sunday Cup than SE Dons. However, the manner in which Lambeth approached their FA Sunday Cup 3rd round match against St Joseph’s of Luton last season showed chinks in their preparation and attitudinal approach. While St Joseph’s were busy scouting Lambeth and preparing a tactical plan to neutralise Lambeth’s attacking threat, Lambeth did not organise a coach to transport themselves to the game until a few days beforehand, and the Lambeth players (including player-manager Hibbert) did not go to sleep until 4-5am on the morning of the game.
“you done a job on us”
While they can get away with such antics and rely on their talent to get them over the line against overawed opponents in local games, doing that against an experienced and well drilled team like St Joseph’s that had reached the FA Sunday Cup final more times than any other team, was reckless. St Joseph’s ended Lambeth’s undefeated record, and won the game 3-0 in a brilliant display that led Hibbert to admit to St Joseph’s that “you done a job on us”. The way St Joseph’s clinically dismantled London’s best team in such fashion showed the higher levels of preparation and tactical discipline required at this national cup level.
The Wheels Come Off
When the season resumed in 2021 after the Covid lockdowns, the wheels came off the Lambeth juggernaut. They had a horrid sequence of results in April 2021 during which they lost 5 games out 6 (including losing twice in three days to SE Dons). What went wrong?
Lambeth’s success relied much on their front three of Hibbert, Ryan Gondoh, and Aaron Watson – all of whom were also team-mates on Saturdays at Isthmian League Division 1 (Step 4) team Whyteleafe. That attacking trio has broken up. Firstly, Whyteleafe imploded and resigned from the Isthmian League after it was unable to renew the lease at its Church Road stadium. Hibbert had surgery and is currently recovering from a long term injury, Gondoh now plays at Step 2 for National League South team Hampton & Richmond Borough, and Watson now plays for Glebe FC on Saturdays in the Southern Counties East League. Charles Banya (who started his career in Fulham FC’s academy) also departed, and midfielder Mike Hill has also been absent with a long-term injury.
It will be interesting to see whether Lambeth has learned its lesson after last season’s terrible mistake of underestimating probably the most consistent team in FA Sunday Cup history.
SOUTH EAST DONS
While Lambeth had problems, SE Dons has been going from strength to strength. It won the OBDSFL for the first time last season (to add to its 2019 victory in the Kent FA Sunday Premier Cup).
The Dons’ brash and boastful declaration of themselves as Britain’s “best Sunday team” has not won them friends – especially in Liverpool. Since the Dons made these claims at a time when they had never won a league title (let alone the FA Sunday Cup – or even entered it!) the Liverpool teams laughed off their claims. Liverpool teams simply have no respect for any team that has not won “The Nash”, and from their perspective, it was highly disrespectful of the Dons to declare themselves as better than Liverpool teams such as Campfield, Oyster Martyrs, and Lobster that have won the FA Sunday Cup.
The goading from Liverpool teams has convinced the Dons to enter the FA Sunday Cup for the first time. To win the FA Sunday Cup, a team must have good players, good coaching, and be well funded. The Dons have all three. While the Liverpool teams dismiss the Dons for being flash self-promoters, that should not detract from the fact that the Dons have really good players! They are also extremely well coached. Their coach Junior James is also the manager of Step 2 club Dulwich Hamlet in the National League South. The Dons’ commercial success (they have sold over 10,000 replica shirts and have more YouTube subscribers than most Premier League teams), means that they can finance the expenses of travelling around the country to play FA Sunday Cup matches.
The Dons’ home ground is Flamingo Park; the stadium in Sidcup, Kent, that they share with Isthmian League Premier Division team Cray Wanderers. Perhaps this is a good omen. Flamingo Park used to be known as the National Dock Labour Board (NDLB) ground. Long-time football fans will recognise the NDLB ground as the former home of one of the greatest Sunday football teams of all time: 279 Sports. If the Dons can achieve even 10% of what 279 did, they will be remembered for a long time.
WHTDSOB –V- HARTLEPOOL LION O’MALLEY’S – (THE HARTLEPOOL DERBY)
Date: Sunday December 5, 2021
Venue: John Howard Park, Wiltshire Way, Hartlepool, TS26 0TB
WHTDSOB will probably not win the FA Sunday Cup. However, if there was an award for the best (or longest!) named team, they would surely win it. West Hartlepool Technical Day School Old Boys (WHTDSOB) FC is named after a school that used to be located on Lauder Street in Hartlepool. The school had an excellent sporting tradition and won the Durham County Schools FA cup 3 times between 1951 and 1961 (1951, 1959, 1961) and were beaten finalists in 1954. The school later became Tunstall High School after an amalgamation with Brierton Hill Technical High School for Girls in 1973 made it a co-ed school.
The school’s alumni gave birth to two adults sports teams: WHTDSOB rugby union club, as well as the football team that is competing in this season’s FA Sunday Cup. Both the rugby and football teams play their home games at John Howard Park in Hartlepool. WHTDSOB’s home ground has a clubhouse and pitch, and the club is about 15 years into a 25 year lease of it from the council.
WHTDSOB was founded 35 years ago in 1986, but this is only its second season competing in the FA Sunday Cup. It reached the third round last season, where it lost 2-4 to Peterlee Catholic Club (who reached the semi-finals and lost to the eventual winners Campfield).
Lion O’Malley’s is a team to watch out for. The club is one of four former FA Sunday Cup winners that are competing in this season’s competition. They won this competition 20 years ago in 2001 (when the club was known as Hartlepool Lion Hillcarter). It has also won the Durham FA’s Sunday Cup 4 times.
Those who know how strong Sunday football is in the Durham County area, can attest to the fact only a very good team can win that cup.
Lion O’Malley’s won the Hartlepool Sunday League last season, and is on course to retain the championship as it is currently undefeated and top of the table with a 100% winning record this season.
These two teams would have preferred to play teams from other leagues rather than each other.
This is especially so as their zone of the draw is traditionally strong and produced the most successful team in FA Sunday Cup history (Hetton Lyons Cricket Club). The “rewards” for the winner of this tie include the risk of being drawn against other dangerous teams from this zone such as Peterlee & District League champions Peterlee Catholic Club (who reached last season’s semi-final). Durham is a dangerous zone to play in.
FA SUNDAY CUP ROUND 1 PREVIEW: PART 2 – SKEW BRIDGE -v- HIGHGATE ALBION (Hertfordshire –v- Middlesex)
FA SUNDAY CUP (ROUND 1 PREVIEW): PART 2 – SKEW BRIDGE -v- HIGHGATE ALBION (Hertfordshire –v- Middlesex)
The FA Sunday Cup is probably the most maligned and under-appreciated of the FA’s competitions. A cup competition that has featured professional top flight footballers and that has a 57 year history, is deserving of more attention and respect. The FA Sunday Cup is like the Champions League of Sunday football, and features the best Sunday teams from across England. For those who expect it to feature a group of hung over, unfit, out of shape middle aged men – you will be very pleasantly surprised at the quality of play. A bystander who watched a game in this competition some years ago confessed: “I was very, very, very shocked just how good the football was”.
In a series of articles I will preview this year’s truncated tournament that features only 64 teams (down from the usual entrant list of about 100 teams).
Due to the geographic regionalisation of the early rounds, almost 30% of the first round games feature local league derbies between teams in the same division as each other. In the previous article I previewed the Luton derby between last year’s beaten finalists St Joseph’s and Club Lewsey.
The second tie I am previewing features the respective champions of the Hertfordshire Advertiser Sunday League and the Barnet Sunday League in north London.
SKEW BRIDGE -v- HIGHGATE ALBION
Date: Sunday December 5, 2021
Venue: Harpenden Town FC, Rothamsted Park, Amenbury Lane, Harpenden, Hertfordshire AL5 2EF (host stadium’s club plays at Step 5 of the National League System in the Premier Division of the Spartan South Midlands League)
When pub landlord Barry Gray took over the rundown Queen’s Head pub on Southdown Road in Harpenden in Hertfordshire, he renovated it and changed its name to Skew Bridge. Gray’s acquisition of the pub indirecty led to the formation of Hertfordshire’s best Sunday football team. After redecorating the newly renamed pub, he added a restaurant and extension to it. To increase custom and interest at the pub, Gray contacted Les Crabtree who had been involved in local football for many years, and asked Crabtree to set up a football team based from the pub. Crabtree had years of experience with football teams in the area and was the secretary of semi-professional football team Harpenden Town (who play at Step 5 of the National League System; in the Premier Division of the Spartan South Midlands League).
From this pub, Skew Bridge Rothamsted Football Club was born. The club started life in the now defunct Verulam & District Sunday League and then later joined the St Albans Observer and Review Sunday League (which later renamed itself the Hertfordshire Advertiser Sunday League). This league has had several names and was also formerly known as the St Albans Sunday League.
After being promoted from Division 5 to Division 4, the club formed a reserve team; mostly from a group of youth players from Harpenden Colts’ under-17 team. This group of young players eventually graduated together into the senior team and started a sequence of winning trophies. They won the Premier Division title twice in their first two seasons as the club’s first team (in the 2004-2005 and 2005-2006 seasons). This success made the club a magnet and as other players started to join, the club increased to three teams in the 2006-2007 season.
Five in a Row
Les Crabtree resigned as manager and asked some senior players to take over management of the first team so that he could concentrate purely on the club’s administrative side as its secretary. After Crabtree stepped down, Chris Gregory and Simon Andrews became joint player-managers of Skew Bridge. The club dropped down to Division 1 in the 2008-2009 season, but won Division 1 at the first attempt with several games to spare and returned to the Premier Division in the 2009- 2010 season. Since then the club has been a trophy winning machine.
After losing the 2013 Hertfordshire FA Sunday Senior Cup final 1-2 to AFC Boars, Skew Bridge avenged that loss by not only beating AFC Boars in the next year’s final to win the Sunday Senior Cup for the first time, but also kept hold of the trophy for half a decade by winning the Sunday Senior Cup an incredible five seasons in a row between 2014 and 2018. Their run of 6 consecutive Sunday Senior Cup finals and 5 consecutive Sunday Senior Cup wins is a Hertfordshire FA record.
Skew Bridge won the Hertfordshire Advertiser Sunday League (again!) last season, and this season is already top of the table having won every league and cup game it has played. Yet strangely, Skew Bridge has not been able to translate its regional dominance in Hertfordshire to the national stage. The club has entered the FA Sunday Cup 5 times, and has lost in the first round each time. This is really odd and makes them vulnerable to an accusation of being a big fish in a little pond. They can refute that charge if they beat their very impressive first round opponents in this season’s competition.
Highgate Albion are the three time consecutive champions of the Barnet Sunday League. The club entered the FA Sunday Cup for the first time last season and reached the last 16. Last season, Highgate retained the Barnet Sunday League championship in dramatic fashion on goal difference by beating top placed Takers FC twice on the same day in a double header to decide the championship on the last day of the season.
Before the Covid lockdown, Highgate were victims of their own success. They had a big fixture pile up in the 2019-20 season after reaching the semi-final of the London Sunday Challenge Cup, the final of the Middlesex Sunday Premier Cup (after beating highly rated AFC Hammersmith Town in the semi-final), and last sixteen of FA Sunday Cup.
This fixture pile-up cost them. They lost the London Sunday Challenge Cup semi-final to Gower All Stars after extra time, drew 2-2 with Wixams Wanderers of Bedfordshire at full-time in the FA Sunday Cup then lost 4-3 on penalties, and they never got to play the final of the Middlesex Sunday Premier Cup as the Middlesex FA suspended the competition due to Covid.
Highgate Albion is yet to build up a head of steam this season and is only two places above the relegation zone in the Barnet Sunday League. They also suffered a shock 1-2 loss in round 2 of the London Sunday Challenge Cup to their Barnet Sunday League rivals Trabzonspor UK. I think being knocked out of the London Sunday Challenge Cup may be a blessing in disguise for Highgate. Without the distraction of a long London cup campaign, Highgate can prioritise the FA Sunday Cup and avoid the fixture pile up they had last year when competing on multiple fronts in the Barnet Sunday Leaguue, London FA, Middlesex FA, and the FA Sunday Cup.
Highgate has the quality to go far in this competition. Some of its players also play on Saturdays for Barnet based Hadley FC in the Premier Division of the Spartan South Midlands League. These include their rapid forward Solomon Ofori; who is usually a handful for opposition defences and averages a goal a game this season. Prior to joining Highgate, Ofori also has a successful stint with Black Meteors of the Hackney & Leyton Sunday League. Another forward; Excellence Muhemba is not far behind with his goals to games ratio and also plays on Saturdays for Windsor in the Premier Division of the Combined Counties League. Highgate also signed midfielder Jayden Clarke from their league rivals Rising Ballers. Clarke also plays semi-professionally on Saturdays at Step 3 for Hendon FC of the Southern League’s Premier Division.
This should be a really good game between two strong teams that have never faced each other before. Home draws are critical in this competition. Being drawn at home (and Highgate’s challenge of getting to Hertfordshire in time for the kick-off!) is a big advantage for Skew Bridge. Will this be the game where they finally break their first round barrier and get to round 2 for the first time?
Although Premier League teams will not begin playing in the FA Cup until next year, another type of FA Cup will start next weekend. As well as its more famous televised counterpart, the FA also stages a nationwide FA Cup competition for amateur Sunday league teams. It is a shame that this competition does not get the credit or attention it deserves as it has featured several top class former Premier League footballers and even Wayne Rooney’s brother and cousins!
The first round gets underway next weekend and I will preview some of the most attractive ties. First up…
ST JOSEPH’S -v- CLUB LEWSEY: “THE LUTON EL CLASSICO”
Date: Sunday December 5, 2021
Venue: Arlesey Town FC, Armadillo Stadium, Hitchin Rd, Arlesey SG15 6RS (host stadium’s club plays at Step 5 of the National League System – in the Premier Division of the Spartan South Midlands League)
Kick-off time: 1pm
One of the most eye catching games of round 1 features Bedfordshire Sunday football’s equivalent of El Classico. If a Sunday football team in Bedfordshire wants to win the county’s Sunday Cup competition, it usually has to beat one or both of St Joseph’s and Club Lewsey to do so. These two teams contested the most recent Bedfordshire FA Sunday Cup final in May 2021, and it is common to see one or both of them in the final.
These local rivals are so familiar with each other that they are almost like each other’s shadow. Not only do they play in the same county, town, league, and division as each other, but in addition, this is the second successive FA Sunday Cup season that St Joseph’s and Club Lewsey have been drawn against each other in round 1. Their last meeting in this competition was on Sunday October 6, 2019; a game that St Joseph’s won after coming from a goal down to win 2-1 after an 87th minute winning goal by Charlie Clayton at Arlesley Town FC’s stadium. It was the first of six victories in St Joseph’s march en route to the final. The two teams also played each other in the 1st round of the 2014 FA Sunday Cup competition, and St Joseph’s also won that game 3-0 on Sunday October 19, 2014 – also at Arlesley Town.
The two clubs have won the North Home Counties Sunday League’s Premier Division title an incredible 23 times between them. After several decades of the two teams dominating the North Home Counties Sunday League, both teams departed in 2020 to seek new challenges in the Leighton & District Sunday League. Predictably, the two teams grabbed the two top spots in the 2020-21 season, with St Joseph’s winning their new league at the first attempt (with a 100% record having won all of its games) and Club Lewsey finished second. Also predictably, Lewsey’s only league and cup defeats of the season were to…St Joseph’s! St Joseph’s completed a league and cup double by also winning the Division 1 Cup.
St Joseph’s – FA Sunday Cup Legends
The home team St Joseph’s can legitimately claim to be the most consistent team in the history of the FA Sunday Cup. It has reached the final an unprecedented 6 times. It has played in this competition for over 30 years and has regularly fielded top class players in its squad; including former Chelsea striker Kerry Dixon (who played 320 games (and scored 193 goals) for Chelsea. Considering that Dixon is third on Chelsea’s list of all time goalscorers, he was not a bad player to have in St Joseph’s squad!
St Joseph’s was founded 51 years ago and is still going strong. Last season the club declared itself the “London Slayers” after eliminating three London teams in last season’s FA Sunday Cup: 3-0 against London Sunday Challenge Cup holders Lambeth All Stars in round 3, 2-1 against the highly rated unbeaten league leaders of the Hackney & Leyton League Sporting Club de Mundial in round 4, and 1-0 against Portland of the Orpington & Bromley District League in the semi-final. St Joseph’s lost the closely contested final in a heart-breaking manner. After the game finished 0-0 after 90 minutes, their opponents Campfield scored a late winning goal in extra time.
Club Lewsey cannot match St Joseph’s record of final appearances, but it has a respectable record in this competition and was good enough to reach the quarter-finals on two separate occasions in in 2008 and 2011.
A group of friends on the Lewsey Farm Estate in north-west Luton formed Club Lewsey FC almost 30 years ago. The club had the same manager for 22 of those years: Mark “Ponte” Pontefract. After winning 7 league titles and 4 county cups, Ponte retired from the club a few months ago. His final game in charge saw the disappointment of losing to St Joseph’s in the Bedfordshire FA Sunday Cup final in late May earlier this year at Barton Rovers’ stadium.
“a group of brothers”
During his time in charge of Club Lewsey, Pontefract oversaw an amazing period of success during which Lewsey won the North Home Counties Sunday League 6 times in a row between 2008 and 2013. It remains to be seen whether Lewsey will continue winning trophies in Pontefract’s absence. As Arsenal and Manchester United fans can attest to, it is extremely difficult to continue winning after the departure of a successful long reigning manager.
Club Lewsey now fields two teams in the Leighton & District League. The first team plays in the Premier Division, and its youth development team (which features 16-20 year olds from the Lewsey Farm Estate and local community) plays a division below in Division 1. A Lewsey club official told me that the players are a tight knit group that is “like a group of brothers”.
Although St Joseph’s has had the better of recent meetings between the two clubs, it has not had everything its own way. This season Lewsey poached St Joseph’s striker Charlie Clayton (who also plays on Saturdays for Spartan South Midlands League Premier Division team Biggleswade United – who last season were in first place before the season was suspended due to Covid). Clayton ironically scored the first goal for St Joseph’s when they beat Lewsey in the Bedfordshire FA Sunday Cup final only 5 months ago and the late winning goal when they beat Lewsey in the prior season’s FA Sunday Cup. He has settled well at Lewsey by scoring 9 goals in his first 6 games for his new club. Lewsey also has several other players who play for semi-professional Saturday teams such as AFC Dunstable of the Southern League Division 1 Central (Step 4), as well as Dunstable Town and Crawley Green who play in the Premier Division of the Spartan South Midlands League (Step 5). These include central defender Ryan Frater at AFC Dunstable (Frater is also the former captain of National League South team St Alban’s City), and attacker Jake Kissiedu who plays for Dunstable Town.
“The rivalry is always a fierce one”
It is unfortunate that these two fine teams have once again been drawn to play against each other in round 1 of the FA Sunday Cup. Both clubs are a credit to their league and it is sad that one of them must be eliminated. The two teams have already played each other twice this year, and may end up playing a further four games against each other if they get drawn against each other in league and county cup competitions. Although the clubs are fierce rivals on the pitch, there does not seem to be bitterness between them. A Club Lewsey official told me that:
“The rivalry with St Joes is always a fierce one on the pitch with the games normally being close right affairs with both teams always in it. Off the pitch it’s a different story, the two groups of players get on well in the bar afterwards and many are friends off the pitch. We look forward to playing them in the biggest game of the season so far on December 5th.”
- Friday May 28, 2021: Club Lewsey 0 –v- St Joseph’s 2 (Charlie Clayton, Jermane Hall) – Bedfordshire FA Sunday Cup final (at Barton Rovers FC – Sharpenhoe Road stadium)
- April 18, 2021: Club Lewsey 2 (Gareth Harnaman, Jake Kissiedu) –v- St Joseph’s 3 (Charlie Clayton, Ryan Neufville, Connor Vincent) – Leighton & District Sunday League, Division 1 Cup
- December 6, 2020: Club Lewsey 0 –v- St Joseph’s 3 (Lucas Kirkpatrick x2, Ryan Neufville) – Leighton & District Sunday League, Division 1
The FA released the draw for the first round of the FA Sunday Cup today. The games will be played on Sunday December 5, 2021.
Due to the regionalisation of round 1, nine of the 32 ties (i.e. almost a third of the games!) feature teams in the same division as each other. Four of the seven (57% of!) Liverpool teams in the competition will face each other, and London will be down to 3 teams max as two (50%!) of its four teams will face each as well. Essex will be down to one team as its only two entrants in the competition (Priory Sports and Rouge 21) will play each other.
THE LEAGUE DERBIES
1) Burradon New Fordley v Hazlerigg Victory – Cramlington and District Sunday League
2) West Hartlepool Technical Day School Old Boys (WHTDSOB) v Hartlepool Lion O’Mally – Hartlepool Sunday League
Liverpool Business Houses Sunday League:
3) Home Bargains v Campfield* (cup holders)
4) Pineapple v Custys
5) Sileby Athletic v Sporting Dynamo – The Alliance Football League (Leicester)
6) Long Whatton v Birstall Stamford – Leicester & Charnwood Sunday Football League
7) Royston Rovers v @Falcons – Cambridge & District Sunday League
8) St Joseph’s v Club Lewsey – Leighton & District Sunday League
9) Lambeth All Stars v South East Dons – Orpington & Bromley District Sunday League
Priory Sports v Rouge 21 (Essex)
THE GOOD, BAD, AND UGLY
This week brought good news and bad news in the world of Sunday football. The good news is that after not staging a tournament in the 2020-2021 season, the FA has decided to bring back the FA Sunday Cup for the 2021-22 season. However, the return of the competition came with a big caveat: the FA restricted this season’s competition to 64 teams only (in a competition that often has more than 100 entrants). The FA’s justification for truncating the competition is the Covid pandemic. Since applications to enter the competition exceeded its vacancies, the FA drew applicant names out of a hat to determine which clubs would and would not be permitted to play in this season’s competition.
The FA’s decision to stage a restricted tournament went down like a lead balloon among many clubs. Clubs from the Liverpool area are irate. Liverpool has been the traditional powerhouse of the FA Sunday Cup and has supplied more winners than any other part of the country (including the current holders Campfield). 12 of the last 16 FA Sunday Cup winners were from either Liverpool or Durham County areas.
The random lottery style method of determining entrants inflicted significant casualties. Former Sunday Cup winners such as Canada (Edinburgh Park), Lobster, and Oyster Martrys (which has regularly featured Wayne Rooney’s family members) – from the well respected Liverpool Business Houses League, were excluded, as well as other perennial Sunday Cup entrants. Even the Durham FA’s county Sunday Cup champions Dawdon Welfare Park were denied entry.
Liverpool teams treat the FA Sunday Cup as their top priority every season. For Sunday footballers from that region, this cup is their Champions League and is the most glamorous competition they can play in. Most teams from the top division of the Liverpool Business Houses League usually enter this cup. The new entry format has blocked that and has caused some Liverpool teams to claim a regional conspiracy against them. It seemed a needless grievance for the FA to trigger because the last FA Sunday Cup competition which started in October 2019 before Covid, was completed 19 months later in May 2021. With the tournament suspended for the 2020-21 season several teams were chomping at the bit to enter this season.
“YOUTUBE TEAMS”: THE CUP’S HIDDEN PUBLICITY AGENTS?
The sense of grievance among Liverpool teams amplified as several new entrants from London (such as “YouTube team” SE Dons, and London Sunday Challenge Cup holders Grand Athletic) were accepted as first time applicants. While past winners are justifiably aggrieved at their exclusion, new entrants have an opportunity to experience the FA Sunday Cup for the first time.
To some extent the controversy over the entrants is a battle between old and new worlds. Liverpool teams regard themselves as custodians of Sunday football’s traditions. Whereas the YouTube clubs from London – with their brashness and constant social media self-promotion, blur the lines between entertainment and sport. Yet there is evidence to suggest that the presence of social media savvy “YouTube teams” such as SE Dons, Baiteze Squad, Lambeth All Stars, and others will increase publicity for the competition and attendances at matches. When SE Dons played in the Kent FA Sunday Premier Cup final in 2019, they drew a record crowd of over 2000 people. That is a higher attendance than most Conference National Clubs drew before Covid. The YouTube teams’ fanbase will be exposed to the FA Sunday Cup for the first time and it may encourage more teams to enter when (hopefully!) the FA reinstates the competition to its full format for the 2022-2023 season.
SUNDAY FOOTBALL: “THE UGLY DUCKLING” OF THE SPORT?
The controversy over the entry format has obscured a bigger issue: English football’s contemptuous and snobbish attitude towards Sunday football. Simply put, the FA has very little regard for Sunday football. It is pertinent that other amateur FA competitions such as the FA Vase and FA Trophy (which involve Saturday clubs) are operating with a full schedule this season – some with extra preliminary or qualifying rounds. The FA’s decision to restrict only the FA Sunday Cup seems all the more bizarre given that many players will play in the FA Trophy or FA Vase for their Saturday clubs then play in the FA Sunday Cup the next day for their Sunday teams (often at the same stadiums!). For example, last season striker Elliott Nevitt scored the winning goal in the FA Sunday Cup final for Liverpool Business Houses League champions Campfield. The following week he also scored a hat-trick in the FA Vase final for Warrington Rylands of the Northern Premier League. Until English football stops judging football by the day of the week it is played, the FA Sunday Cup will continue to be treated as an inferior ugly duckling in the sport.