AFC HAMMERSMITH TOWN (LEATHERHEAD AND DISTRICT SUNDAY LEAGUE) -V- HIGHGATE ALBION (BARNET SUNDAY LEAGUE)
MIDDLESEX FA SUNDAY PREMIER CUP – QUARTER-FINAL
Sunday February 23, 2022 – 1pm (at Shamrock Sports & Social Club in Action, west London)
Because these two teams are fortunate enough to be based in areas that straddle different county FAs, they enter 5 different county cup competitions between them! The home team Hammersmith are based in west London, and in the past two seasons have entered county cup competitions in London, Surrey, and Middlesex. They won the London Sunday Intermediate Cup in 2019 and also reached the Surrey FA Sunday Premier Cup final in 2020, but the final against Lambeth All Stars was not played as the Surrey FA voided that season’s competition due to Covid. Despite being based in north London, Middlesex is Highgate’s parent FA. After decades of playing in Middlesex county cups, they recently started also entering London county cups.
Both teams are reigning league champions. Hammersmith won the Harrow Sunday Challenge League last season, and after a dispute with that league, left acrimoniously to join the Leatherhead & District Sunday League. They are currently top of their new league and have not lost a league game in almost 2 years. Highgate have won the Barnet Sunday League the last three seasons in a row. Despite their pedigree, both teams suffered shock defeats in round 2 of the London Sunday Challenge Cup. Thus their chances of county cup success are in Middlesex.
Both teams contain several players who have played at a high level. Hammersmith’s captain and center back Regan Mendes has played professionally in Romania for FC Unirea and also for National League South team Welling United.
The game was played on a bobbly uneven pitch which did not do justice to the ability of some of the players. Both teams have similar playing profiles: they have fast, small, and skillful wingers, and strong central defenders who are good in the air and physically powerful, but lack pace.
One of the first things I noticed was that former Lambeth All Stars defender Albie Sheehan-Couzens was in Hammersmith’s line-up in an unfamiliar central midfield position. Sheehan-Couzens won the London Sunday Challenge Cup with Lambeth All Stars in 2020. Sheehan-Couzens also played for Barking on Saturdays in the Isthmian League (Step 4) until last season. I do not think playing in midfield did him justice. While he is good in the air, his lack of ground speed was exposed in that position.
“don’t give him an excuse to book you”
I cannot recall ever seeing a team wasting time in the first half of a game after only 20 minutes with the score 0-0. To the consternation of Hammersmith’s manager, Highgate’s goalkeeper Alexandru Gavriloaia took obscene amounts time to retrieve the ball when it went out of play and to take the resulting goal kick. When the ball went out of play, he seemed to ponder his options, before gingerly walking over to retrieve it with the speed and urgency of an aged turtle. His time wasting was so blatant that his own coach warned him to hurry up and “don’t give him [referee] an excuse to book you. Don’t invite it”. Mr Gavriloaia seemed to get under the skin of Hammersmith’s management and players. At one stage, he got into a verbal and shoving match with Hammersmith’s Emmanuel “Manny” Tehe – off the pitch behind the Albion goal.
Highgate looked dangerous from corners and it was no surprise when they took the lead from a corner. However the goalscorer and the manner of the goal was surprising. Highgate’s captain and veteran center-back Ian Maitland (who bizarrely was wearing shirt number 99!) scored with a spectacular volley into the top left hand corner of the Hammersmith net after 25 minutes. When central defenders score from set pieces, it is usually a header. It is not often that one sees center-backs blasting “worldies” into the top corner. Highgate nearly went 2-0 up from another header from a corner but Hammersmith headed the effort off the line with the keeper beaten.
HALF TIME SCORE: AFC HAMMERSMITH TOWN 0 -V- HIGHGATE ALBION 1
I was a bit concerned that in the second half, Highgate’s manager “treated” a head injury to one of his players with a new pioneering scientific medical treatment called “bottle of cold water to the head”. Fortunately, the player recovered and continued playing.
“Shut the fuc* up and get back!”
As Hammersmith pressed for the equaliser, I was impressed by Highgate’s defensive strength. Their center backs Maitland and Aaron Scott did not allow Hammersmith’s lively attackers to create any openings. Highgate’s left back Luke Alfano looked a solid player both defensively and when supporting his team’s attacks. Alfano plays Step 5 football for Hadley on Saturdays in the Spartan South Midlands League (Premier Division). Highgate’s captain Ian Maitland responded to one of his team-mates complaining about a refereeing decision by screaming at him to: “Shut the fuc* up and get back!”. As far as on-field tactical advice goes: it was concise and to the point.
Meanwhile Highgate’s speedy attackers were very dangerous on the counter-attack. Highgate went 2-0 up in 70th minute when Solomon Ofori (who also plays on Saturdays for Step 5 club Hadley) cut in from right, shot with his left foot, and the ball got a small touch off a Hammersmith defender before hitting the inside of the Hammersmith’s keeper’s right hand post and going in. Ofori also formerly played for Ghanaian team Black Meteors in the Hackney & Leyton League.
Highgate almost went 3-0 up in the 80th minute when their left winger cut in from the left flank and hit a right footed shot which hit the right hand post. Even though the referee added a mysterious 7-8 minutes of injury time, Highgate clinically saw out the game, kept a clean sheet and won 2-0 to advance to the semi-finals.
I am not sure how much the poor playing surface affected the teams’ performance, but on the strength of this game, neither team is as good as Baiteze Squad or South-East Dons who played each other last week in the FA Sunday Cup (albeit football was much easier for them on a 4G artificial surface than on the bumpy and muddy grass pitch that Hammersmith and Highgate had to play on).
That is not to say that either of these teams was anything other than very good. Highgate looked very efficient. Even against strong opposition like Hammersmith, they never looked ruffled at the back. Meanwhile they looked fast and very dangerous when attacking. They will be a test for fellow Barnet Sunday League club Takers (current holders of this cup) in the semi-final of this cup and for Burghfield in round 3 of the FA Sunday Cup. Somehow Highgate reached round 3 of the FA Sunday Cup without playing a game. Their opponents in round 1 and 2 (Skew Bridge of Hertfordshire and Falcons of Cambridge respectively) withdrew from the competition – thereby giving Highgate automatic advancements in both cases. It remains to be seen how and whether Highgate’s strong defenders would cope against fast center-forwards who play the ball in behind them.
FULL-TIME SCORE: AFC HAMMERSMITH TOWN 0 -V- HIGHGATE ALBION 2