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)