Tag Archives: sports

Cuffley v Oracle Components (Hertfordshire Senior County League)


Cuffley v Oracle Components, Saturday August 27, 2022 – 3pm (Hertfordshire Senior County League, Premier Division)
Attendance: 29

Those of you that follow this page know that when I am not writing history books, I am also a big football fan. Since the Premier League gets blanket TV and media coverage, I like to cover games at the other end of the spectrum that do not get much coverage.

Yesterday I watched a match in the Hertfordshire Senior County League (HSCL). The HSCL is at Step 7 of England’s football pyramid. Step 7 is the entry point for teams that aspire to move up the amateur football pyramid. As the name suggests, leagues at this level are 7 leagues below the professional leagues. A team would have to be promoted 7 times to reach the professional leagues, and 10 times to reach the Premier League.

Cuffley

Cuffley club crest on the side of its club-house.

Cuffley is a small green village of about 4000 people in Hertfordshire (just outside the M25). The home team Cuffley play at the King George V Playing Fields in Potters Bar, Hertfordshire. Despite the name of their ground, the venue is not a mere field, but is a lovely football pitch (surrounded by metal railings and trees) sandwiched between the Northaw & Cuffley lawn and tennis club and the Northaw & Cuffley bowling club. Cuffley FC has been playing in the HSCL for 48 years and finished in 4th place in the Premier League last season.

Oracle Components

As the name suggests, the visitors Oracle Components was originally a works football team of an electronics equipment supplier in Harlow, Essex. However, the football team has lost most of its links to the company (although the team’s manager still works at Oracle). While Cuffley is a veteran club at county level, Oracle is relatively new to it. Despite having its origins in Essex, Oracle spent most of its history playing in the Hertfordshire based Hertford & District League (HDL), and after finishing second in the HDL’s Premier Division in 2019, was promoted to Division 1 of the Hertfordshire Senior County League. After the frustration of its first two seasons in the County League being declared null and void due to Covid, Oracle finished second in Division 1 in the 2021-2022 season, and won a second successive promotion; this time to the County League’s Premier Division. Playing at a higher level has also allowed Oracle to attract better players.

On paper, Cuffley should have been the favourites since they are more experienced at this level and were playing at home. However, Oracle beat last season’s Premier Division champions Belstone 1-0 on the first day of this season, also won the HDL in 2015, and the Essex Junior Cup in 2018 after beating Chingford Athletic of the Essex Olympian League 5-3 in the final.

Team Line-Ups and Formations:

Pre-match handshakes. Cuffley (red) v Oracle Components (blue)
Source: Jamie Stone Photography

Cuffley formation: 3-4-2-1 (2 behind/to left and right of center forward)

Oracle formation: 4-2-3-1

The changes in playing style, fitness, and technology in the professional game have filtered down to this level. Once the game started I was very impressed by the quality and fitness of both teams. Do not let the league’s level deceive you. Many of the players are good enough to play at a higher level. The game was played at a lively pace, and both teams (especially Cuffley) were committed to passing the ball on the ground and playing out from the back. Cuffley’s defenders were very comfortable on the ball, not afraid to drag their studs across the top of the ball, and moved the ball out from defence to their midfielders with good technique. The ball was on the ground more than an FA Cup match I saw last season between clubs at Steps 3 and 4 (3-4 divisions higher than these two teams). Even at this level, players have to be very fit and in shape in order to be effective.

Cuffley settled faster than their opponents, and looked dangerous when they attacked down their left wing (which made sense as Cuffley has multiple good left footed players) Although Cuffley’s left wing back Adetoye Kolaru saw plenty of the ball and spent most of his time attacking high up the pitch in the first half, Cuffley’s captain Joe Wills was the most impressive player on the pitch. He was a twinkle toed playmaker in midfield (think of the energy of Connor Gallagher mixed with the quick feet of Phil Foden or Marcus Rashford). However, I think Cuffley did not make the best use of Willis’ considerable skills by playing him deep in midfield. I thought they should have played him further up the field as a number 10 just behind their striker, where he could do more damage.

Oracle had brothers Kai and Colby Butler in its team. Colby played at left back and his younger brother Kai (a 16 or 17 year old teenager) was in goal. Despite his youth, Kai acquitted himself very well.

Cuffley had the majority of possession but Oracle ironically looked more dangerous during their sporadic counter-attacks. Oracle failed to capitalise on some dubious offside calls by the young linesman on their right flank Ivan Raath – who kept his flag down twice when Oracle players looked offside. Raath is a 17 year old linesman who is clearly learning his trade. When he is not officiating football matches, he is a stage actor, performing arts student, and an accomplished tennis player. Raath flagged Oracle offside for the first time in the 59th minute. Ironically on this occasion, the Oracle player was about 1 yard onside.

Oracle’s Martin Walters (number 11) confronted by Cuffley players. Cuffley’s captain Joe Willis is pointing with his right arm.
Source: Jamie Stone Photography

Oracle captain Robert Green taking a free kick.
Source: Jamie Stone Photography

Speaking of the officials; the other two officials (referee John Fearns and the other linesman Martin De La Fuente) were at the opposite end of the experience and mobility spectrum to Raath. Both were old enough to be his grandfather. I overheard some players sarcastically saying of Raath: “He is supposed to be young and fit.” Despite his youth, Mr Raath was not tolerating dissent from the players. I overheard him complaining to the referee that one of the players called him “a fucking joker throughout the game…I am not happy about that!”

Technological assistance has also filtered down to this level. Cuffley had a video camera installed on the halfway line, and I noticed that the three officials wore earphones which they used to communicate with each other and verbally transmit information about offside calls and infringements throughout the game. Does anyone know whether such refereeing technology is a regular thing at this level?

Oracle players in a huddle at half-time.

Oracle should have taken the lead only 3 minutes into the second half when Martin Walters squared the ball from the left and a team mate hit the ball into the ground and he and Cuffley’s goalkeeper Roberto Coppolella watched the ball bounce almost in slow motion high and wide of Cuffley’s right hand post.

With 15 minutes left, the Oracle players gave the referee an absolute earful when he waved play on after a Cuffley player ran onto the ball, and the ball flew up off his foot and deflected onto his hand. As play continued, Cuffley nearly scored with a spectacular left footed scissor kick that went just wide. Had Cuffley scored from this attack after the referee’s controversial no-call, the Oracle players may have fed the referee to lions!

Cuffley eventually took the lead in the 77th  minute when their striker Kaci Henry finished an intricate passing move by curling a fine left footed shot from the edge of the area into the right hand corner of the Oracle goal. I could not see a way back for Oracle at this point and assumed Cuffley would shut up shop. However, Alfie Leonard chose an excellent time to score his first goal for Oracle and equalised in the 83rd minute. With the game seemingly petering out to a draw, Cuffley won a corner in the 92nd minute which Oracle failed to clear, and after two rebounded shots that Oracle blocked, the ball fell to Kaci Henry who once again scored from close range to break Oracle’s hearts with a last gasp goal in the dying seconds. The referee blew for full time a few seconds later, with Cuffley elated and Oracle devastated. Cuffley are now in 5th place in the Premier Division, while Oracle slid down to 9th place.

This was a very good match played in a competitive but not spiteful spirit. There was the usual banter between the players, questioning of officials (none of which was abusive) and players reminding the officials that their mistakes would later be revealed by the pitch side camera that Cuffley installed on the halfway line! It was a very good level of football for Step 7 and also a good advert for the Hertfordshire Senior County League. Based on what I saw, both teams should have a decent season and finish in the top half of the table.

Final Score: Cuffley 2 v Oracle Components 1

Who Will Win the FA Sunday Cup?


The FA Sunday Cup is perhaps the most under-appreciated of the FA’s competitions. A cup competition that has featured professional top flight footballers and that has a 57 year history, deserves more attention and respect. The final of this season’s competition will take place this Sunday at The Den (home of Millwall FC) in south London.

For those who mentally associated Sunday football with overweight, unfit, out of shape players – think again. The FA Sunday Cup is essentially semi-professional football – full of players who were on the books of Premier League clubs. 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”.

The FA Sunday Cup is like the Champions League of Sunday football, and features the best Sunday teams from across England. This year’s final is a historic one. This is only the second time in nearly 30 years that two teams from London have reached the final of this nationwide competition. The two teams playing in this year’s final are seriously good and both are champions of their respective leagues. Here is a preview of both teams and what to expect from them.

HIGHGATE ALBION

I will be immodest and give myself indirect credit for foreshadowing Highgate Albion’s run to the final (!). Four months ago, I sent a message to the club’s secretary (after they received a second successive bye in round 2 against Falcons FC of Cambridge) jokingly suggesting that they might “reach the final without having to play a game!”. Four months later, Highgate indeed reached the final (they did play a few games to get there though!). However, Highgate reached the last 16 of this competition without having to kick a ball; after receiving byes in the first two rounds due to the inability of their 1st and 2nd round opponents Skew Bridge and Falcons to fulfil their fixtures.

Their 1st round game against Skew Bridge was initially postponed due to a waterlogged pitch, and the FA awarded the tie to Highgate after Skew Bridge was unable to play in the re-arranged fixture. Falcons folded and withdrew from the cup. However, those byes should not detract from Highgate’s quality. When Highgate eventually faced an opponent willing to play in round 3, they beat Burghfield from Reading 2-0, followed by a statement victory in a 6-1 demolition of highly rated Club Lewsey of Luton in the quarter-final.

Highgate are the three time consecutive champions of the Barnet Sunday League. It is a mark of how good they are that the club reached the final in what is only its second entry in the competition (having reached the last 16 in the prior season’s competition). The north London team has serious quality – especially in attack. Highgate’s prolific striker Jake Cass (who averages more than a goal per game this season) also plays semi-professionally on Saturdays for Step 3 team Enfield FC in the Premier Division of the Isthmian League. This season 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. Some other Highgate players also play on Saturdays for Barnet based Hadley FC in the Premier Division of the Spartan South Midlands League (Step 5). These include the rapid forward Solomon Ofori; who is usually a handful for opposition defences, and left back Luke Alfano who is a very solid player both defensively and when supporting his team’s attacks. Forward Excellence Muhemba also plays on Saturdays for Windsor in the Premier Division of the Combined Counties League.

Captain Marvel

A special word for Highgate’s captain and veteran center-back Ian Maitland. The name Maitland is synonymous with Highgate Albion. Maitland made this debut for the club before this century! (and before some of his team-mates were born) 23 years and about 500 games later, Maitland still plays for Highgate Albion. He followed in the footsteps of his father Nigel 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 Highgate.

“the most important goal in the club’s history”

I saw (Ian!) Maitland score a spectacular volley into the top left hand corner during Highgate’s victory against AFC Hammersmith in the Middlesex FA Sunday Premier Cup quarter-final earlier this season. At the time I thought a 39 year old defender blasting a “worldie” into the top corner was an outlier. It turns out that Maitland is the Steve Bruce of his era; a goalscoring defender. Not only has he scored 14 goals this season, but he also scored the dramatic 93rd minute winning goal in the semi-final against Liverpool team Mayfair, as Highgate overturned a 0-2 deficit to win 3-2. The club dubbed Maitland’s goal as “the most important goal in the club’s history”.

I also witnessed Maitland’s old school captaincy philosophy earlier this season when he 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.

Next year will be the 40th anniversary of Highgate Albion’s formation. The club now operates four teams in the Barnet Sunday League. Its second team has already won the Middlesex FA Sunday Intermediate Cup this season. While the first team is riding high in the Premier Division, its second, third, and fourth teams are all well placed to gain promotion this season from Divisions 1, 4, and 6 respectively of the Barnet Sunday League. It would be a fitting “grand slam” pre-40th anniversary celebration for the club if its first team became champions of England and its other three teams all won promotion.

BAITEZE SQUAD

For the unitiated/those unfamiliar with these two teams, Baiteze is one of the most popular and successful of the so-called “YouTube teams” who film and upload footage of their games with commentary to YouTube. Baiteze are champions of the Essex Sunday Corinthian League (ESCL) which is based in east London and Essex. Before joining the ESCL Baiteze played as “Mile End Baiteze Squad” in the legendary Hackney & Leyton League, and won the league’s title three times in a row before an acrimonious split with their manager Justin Gardner (who also managed Barking FC on Saturdays in the Isthmian League (Step 4)) 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 ESCL to play under the Baiteze Squad name. 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 has made many people eat humble pie this season. Many Liverpool teams (who consider themselves to be the guardians of amateur football’s traditions) were against the entry of what they considered to be an arrogant and brash “YouTube team” with no history. The Liverpool teams spent so much time on “the game has gone” complaints  that they forgot the positive attributes that Baiteze brought to this competition: huge publicity and on-pitch quality. Baiteze has essentially provided free publicity for the FA, this competition, and for every team they have faced. 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. The 1000+ attendance at their huge round 2 clash against SE Dons was the most well attended FA Sunday Cup match in decades and drew a bigger crowd than most finals. Baiteze and SE Dons have almost half a million social media followers between them, and SE Dons has more YouTube followers than 70% of Premier League clubs. Baiteze’s mere presence in this competition drew attention to it, and may increase participation and fan attendance for years to come.

Despite Baiteze’s penchant for self-promotion and social media “banter”, on the pitch, the club has an excellent squad. It is also well coached as its manager Billy Hession has coached at professional level at clubs such as Gillingham. Baiteze’s playmaker Ade Cole is a showman. Some of his skills in their thrilling 2nd round victory over SE Dons delighted the crowd into chants of “Ade are you OK?” (to the tune of the “Annie are you ok?” lyrics in Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal.

Ade Cole’s older brother is also called… Ade Cole (do not ask me – ask the family!). Ade Senior is also a fine footballer who used to play for former Hackney & Leyton League champions Clapton Rangers.

In the same game centre-back Alex Cruickshank put in the best defensive performance I have seen from any player at this level for years. He did not put a foot wrong and blocked, headed, and intercepted everything that came his way.

Baiteze had by far the toughest route to the final. Not only did Baiteze have to play more games than Highgate, but all of the five teams that Baiteze beat to reach the final are champions of their respective leagues. Beating league champions from Ipswich, Kent, south London, Doncaster, and Middlesbrough is no mean feat. In round 2 Baiteze faced their massive “YouTube team” rivals SE Dons in what was undoubtedly the tie of the round. Baiteze won a thrilling game 3-2 in front of a packed and vociferous crowd of over 1000 at Barking FC. In round 2, Baiteze had to face the formidable London Sunday Challenge Cup holders and Metropolitan Sunday League champions Grand Athletic. Going into that game Grand Athletic had not lost a game for 16 months in a match sequence spanning almost 40 consecutive games. Baiteze ended Grand’s long unbeaten record with a 3-1 victory away, and two weeks later, proved it was no fluke by also eliminating Grand from the London Sunday Challenge Cup on penalties after a 2-2 draw.

PUTTING LONDON BACK ON THE FOOTBALL MAP

This game also says a lot about the strength in depth of Sunday football in London. Neither team is the best team in its league and has been dethroned. Highgate is currently in 4th position in the Barnet Sunday League and Baiteze is in 3rd place in the Essex Sunday Corinthian League. Even if both teams win all of their remaining games, they cannot retain the league titles they won last season. Both teams have also been eliminated from the London FA Sunday Challenge Cup. If London teams that cannot finish top of their league can reach the final of the nationwide FA Sunday Cup, it says much about the quality of teams from London.

For many years the Liverpool teams have been sceptical about the quality of amateur football in the nation’s capital and kept reminding everyone of their region’s dominance of this competition. That dominance obscures an overlooked fact: London teams perform poorly in the FA Sunday Cup because they rarely enter it!

WHO WILL WIN?

Fittingly, the game will be played in south London which can be considered “neutral” territory for teams from north and east London. The FA Sunday Cup is notoriously difficult to predict. After round 2 there is very little difference in quality between the teams and all remaining teams are capable of beating each other. Highgate and Baiteze have played each other only once competitively; in the quarter-final of the London Sunday Challenge Cup in 2019. On that occasion, Highgate came from behind to win 3-1.

This final will definitely will not end 0-0. The quality of attackers in both teams will prevent that.

FA Sunday Cup Final
Sunday May 1, 2022 (Kick-off 2pm)

Millwall FC
The Den
New Cross, ‎London‎, ‎SE16
Buy tickets here

Highgate Albion’s route to the final:

ROUNDOPPONENTLEAGUESCOREDATEVENUE
1Skew BridgeHertfordshire Advertiser Sunday LeagueN/A (walkover – Skew unable to fulfil fixture)5 December 2021  Harpenden Town FC (Herts)  
2FalconsCambridge & District Sunday League  N/A (walkover – Falcons withdrew)16 January 2022Bottisham Sports Centre (Cambridge)  
3BurghfieldReading & District Sunday League  2-013 February 2022Sun Sports & Social Club (Watford)  
Quarter-FinalClub LewseyLeighton & District Sunday League6-16 March 2022  Hertford Town FC  
Semi-FinalMayfairLiverpool Business Houses League3-227 March 2022  Solihull Moors FC

Baiteze Squad’s route to the final:

ROUNDOPPONENTLEAGUESCOREDATEVENUE
1Borussia MartleshamIpswich Sunday League  0-0 (5-4 on penalties)5 December 2021  Redbridge FC
2South-East DonsOrpington & Bromley District Sunday League3-216 January 2022Barking FC
3Grand AthleticMetropolitan Sunday League3-113 February 2022Griffin Sports Ground (London)  
Quarter-FinalScawthorpe AthleticDoncaster Rovers Sunday League4-26 March 2022  Brodsworth Miners Welfare Ground (Doncaster)  
Semi-FinalMiddlesbrough DormansStockton Sunday League  1-1 (3-2 on penalties)27 March 2022  Boston United FC

Baiteze v SE Dons: What Does the “YouTube El Classico” Tell Us About Sunday Football?


Referee’s assistant checking the nets before the game

BAITEZE SQUAD (ESSEX SUNDAY CORINTHIAN LEAGUE) -V- SOUTH-EAST DONS (ORPINGTON & BROMLEY DISTRICT SUNDAY LEAGUE)

FA SUNDAY CUP – ROUND 2

Sunday January 16, 2022 – 1pm (at Barking FC in east London)

For those who ask: (a) “Are YouTube teams good for grassroots football?” (b) “What is the point of YouTube teams?”; and (c) “Are YouTube teams actually good at football?” – this game answered all those questions and many more. This game had everything you would want from a cup match: a massive raucous crowd, goals, attacking football, fierce commitment, a stirring comeback, crunching tackles, and red cards.

BACKGROUND

There have been many great Sunday football rivalries over the last 45 years: including 279 Sports v Troy, Arras v Continental, and Kenningwell United/New Salamis v Baldon Sports. The contest for football (and social media) supremacy between these two teams might be the next great amateur football rivalry.

For the unitiated/those unfamiliar with these two teams, Baiteze and SE Dons are the most popular and successful of the so-called “YouTube teams” who film and upload footage of their games with commentary to YouTube. The two teams have almost half a million social media followers between them, and SE Dons has more YouTube followers than 70% of Premier League clubs.

Both teams are champions of their respective leagues. Baiteze are champions of the Essex Sunday Corinthian League which is based in east London and Essex, and SE Dons are champions of the Orpington & Bromley District Sunday League – which is based in south-east London and northern Kent. The two clubs are also each other’s biggest rivals, and play each other every summer in non-league sanctioned “YouTube championship” matches. Yet ironically, this was the first competitive game between them. For it to happen in an FA Sunday Cup game made the occasion even more special.

All the “pundits” had SE Dons as massive favourites and not a single one of them picked Baiteze to win.


BUMPER CROWD

There was a massive crowd at the game. Both stands were packed to capacity and there was no space on the side of the pitch. Some stood or sat on elevated places like walls to get a view of the game. Despite Baiteze being the home team, it was like home game for Dons as the bulk of the crowd was supporting them. Several social media posts by both teams claimed that there were 2000 fans at the stadium.

While the crowd was certainly large, I think the real figure was about 50-65% of the alleged 2000. Whether or not I am correct, a crowd of over 1000 at a Sunday league game is extraordinary. I am amazed that Baiteze did not charge an entry fee – especially when they knew that there would be a huge crowd.

PET PEEVES

The game started with a replication of a pet peeve I see in elite professional football: two teams wearing their change kits despite there being no colour clash between them. While SE Dons wore all white, Baiteze were the bigger culprits by wearing a gaudy kit that looked like a painter and decorator’s splattered clothes after several days painting a house!

It took time for both teams to settle and there was little incident of note in the first 10 minutes. The first goal mouth action was self-inflicted and exposed another one of my pet peeves about modern football: the inflexible insistence on playing out from the back. I never understand why defenders do this all the time – even when under pressure and when surrounded by opposition attackers, and even though it often goes wrong and results in a defensive error and giving away a goal. Baiteze’s centre back decided it was a good idea to dribble his way out of trouble (when surrounded by three SE Dons attackers) when he could have put ball onto the roof of the stand. He lost possession, and Dons capitalized on the error by scoring.

Fortunately for Baiteze, the goal was disallowed for offside. As I looked down to take notes on what just happened, I heard two noises. The first was the familiar thud of boot on leather as someone took a shot. The second noise was a massive roar from the crowd. As I saw members of the Baiteze bench run onto the pitch to celebrate, I realised what had happened. 60 seconds after SE Dons had a goal disallowed, Baiteze’s Domingos Pires had given them the lead, and I missed the goal because I looked away from the pitch to take notes about something that happened a few seconds earlier!

Baiteze 1 -v- SE Dons 0

The goal settled Baiteze and Samuel Jeremiah scored a second goal with a header from a corner. Jeremiah also plays for Basildon United on Saturdays in the Isthmian League Division 1 North. The referee spent as much time policing the benches as he did controlling the players. A fracas ensued between the Baiteze and Dons benches during the celebrations of Baiteze’s second goal. The referee had to work as hard as a WWE referee to declare a ceasefire between the benches. There was a lengthy delay while he restored order.

Baiteze 2 -v- SE Dons 0

“Ade Are You OK?”

Dons were shell-shocked after Samuel Jeremiah scored his second goal of the game to give Baiteze a 3-0 lead.

Baiteze returning to the center circle after scoring their third goal.

Baiteze started enjoying themselves and stringing lovely passing moves together. A brilliant dummy by Baiteze’s Ade Cole which flummoxed the Dons’ Nathan Palmer (followed by Cole playing a “no look” pass) delighted the crowd and brought chants of “Ade are you OK?” (to the tune of the “Annie are you ok?” lyrics in Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal.

Baiteze 3 -v- SE Dons 0

Ade Cole’s older brother is also called… Ade Cole (do not ask me – ask the family!). Ade Senior is also a fine footballer who used to play for former Hackney & Leyton League champions Clapton Rangers.

SE Dons did not create a single clear cut opening in the first half, and their prolific star striker Zak Ansah was anonymous in the first half. Ansah is a fine player who plays Step 4 football on Saturdays for Herne Bay of the Isthmian League (South East Division) and scored 28 goals for Herne Bay in the 2019-2020 season. Much of the credit for keeping him quiet is due to the excellent play of the Baiteze centre-back Alex Cruickshank who did not put a foot wrong all half. He blocked, headed, and intercepted everything that came his way.

SECOND HALF

Baiteze’s first half dominance was so comprehensive that it was inconceivable it would continue in the second half. With Baiteze in a commanding lead, they held back and did not attack as much as they did in the first half. A rare opening for Dons’ Zak Ansah was blocked by Alex Cruickshank (who else?!). As Dons tried to get back in the game, their midfielder Nathan Palmer crashed a fierce long range drive against the crossbar.

Dons centre-back Joe Denny (whom the Dons describe as “Full English” in his playing style) held a Baiteze player down on the ground after a challenge. The Baiteze player did not retaliate, but Ade Cole (who was standing at least 20 yards away from the incident) recklessly retaliated by charging across the field at Denny and hitting him in the chest. The referee issued a double red card (one to each team). Cole’s dismissal was as blatant a red card as one is likely to see. Both he and Denny have played at a high level and should have known better (Denny formerly played for Ebbsfleet United of the National League and Cole plays on Saturdays for Step 3 Isthmian League Premier Division team Haringey Borough). Dons were fortunate not to be reduced to 9 men after a reckless tackle that led the ref to issue a yellow card – that another referee would have punished with a red.

Yellow card to an SE Dons player

A fine Baiteze move down the right wing put Samuel Jeremiah in on a goal with a great chance to complete his hat-trick and put Baiteze 4-0 up. Jeremiah’s initial effort ricocheted off the Dons’ goalkeeper George Kamurasi and bounced back to Jeremiah who had the goal at his mercy, with Kamurasi prone on the ground, and team mate Shomari Barnwell whom he could have squared ball to. However, Jeremiah’s effort cannoned off the inside of the post and out to safety. Would Baiteze rue missing that chance?

PENALTY FOR THE DONS

With each team reduced to 10 men, Dons midfielder Montel Agyemang was excellent. He showed great stamina, was always available to receive a pass, and distributed the ball very well. He was the Dons’ best player on the day. After the referee awarded Dons a penalty, Agyemang had a great opportunity to give Dons a lifeline from the penalty spot. This is what happened:

Penalty to SE Dons

Due to the huge crowd, I had a concern that rarely arises in grassroots Sunday football. Since Baiteze were 3-0 up with only 10 minutes to go, I wanted to leave early to avoid the inevitable crush and long car tailbacks after the game. About 30 seconds after I started walking to the exit, I heard a roar. It was the sound of the crowd cheering after Nathan Palmer scored and reduced the deficit for the Dons. I did not see the goal as I could not see past the huge crowd.

Baiteze 3 -v- SE Dons 1

As I reached one of the stands behind the Baiteze goal, I heard an even louder crowd roar. This time Dons winger Rory Hill had played in the hitherto anonymous Zak Ansah, who scored to make it 3-2. Somehow, Dons had scored twice in the few moments it took me to walk from the side of the pitch to the back of the stand. I had not even reached the exit! 

Baiteze 3 -v- SE Dons 2

The two goals sent the crowd into a frenzy and I abandoned my plans to leave early. I thought Baiteze would be haunted for the rest of their lives if they threw away a 3-0 lead in the dying minutes of the game. With the crowd roaring on the Dons, their tails were up and they started bombarding the Baiteze goal in search of the equaliser. Incredibly, Baiteze were now hanging on in a game where they were 3-0 up with 10 minutes left, and in which they had not looked in any danger.

Baiteze held on for a 3-2 win, but made it much harder than it needed to be, and turned what should have been an emphatic one sided victory into a nerve jangling, hearts in mouth last 10 minutes. Credit for that must go to SE Dons. Even when 0-3 down, they never gave up and kept attacking. They got back into the game on sheer willpower.

FINAL SCORE: BAITEZE SQUAD 3 -V- SE DONS 2

MAN OF THE MATCH: Alex Cruikshank (Baiteze Squad). Imperious in defence for Baiteze.

WHAT THIS GAME TELLS US ABOUT SUNDAY FOOTBALL AND THE YOUTUBE FOOTBALL SCENE

The massive and raucous crowd, and number of people from unconnected clubs at the game shows how powerful social media has become in Sunday football. Coaches of teams who are not even playing in the FA Sunday Cup (such as Rising Ballers’ coach Mahrez Bettache and The Wall’s coach Sian) were at the game, as was the Dons’ chairman Andy Ansah (a retired professional footballer who played for Brighton and Southend United).

This was no ordinary Sunday football match. Most of the players on both teams also play on Saturdays for Step 3-5 semi-professional teams. The standard of play was akin to a Step 4 Saturday football match. Haringey Borough, Glebe, Margate, Hythe Town…the game was like an “All Stars” game for well known semi-professional players from the Essex and Kent areas. For example, Ansah was formerly in Arsenal’s academy, and Agyemang plays for Margate in the Premier Division of the Isthmian League.

I was also impressed by both teams’ commitment to passing and keeping the ball on the floor. There were very few “hit and hope” long balls and even when a long ball was played, it was usually a deliberate and accurate cross-field pass to switch the play to a team-mate on the opposite side of the pitch.

This game also raised an issue that will become increasingly prevalent with YouTube football: crowd control. Unlike Saturday semi-professional football, there were no security officers or stewards at this game. Crowd control was 100% dependent on the spectators in the packed stadium keeping their discipline and self-policing themselves. Control issues came not from the crowd, but from the respective benches who invaded the pitch to celebrate each goal. If the referee mentions such incidents in his match report, the FA might introduce strict rules about crown control and incursions onto the playing surface.

It also struck me that most of the spectators were in their teens and 20s. The fact that Baiteze and Dons attract this Gen Z fanbase is a dream for brands. Baiteze already has sponsorship deals with New Balance and Wingstop, while SE Dons has a sponsorship deals with Puma and German Doner Kebab. Attracting sponsorship from big brands usually has strings attached. Those brands will put pressure on the teams to maintain a “PG product”. To that end, the unpleasant scenes that resulted in red cards to Joe Denny and Ade Cole are incidents to avoid repeating.

The entrance of YouTube teams has introduced a new fanbase and level of attention to the FA Sunday Cup. This competition does not receive the attention it deserves. However, the social media bombardment of these YouTube teams will grow the competition’s audience. The videos of this game has already been viewed almost 200,000 times on the clubs’ YouTube channels. I cannot recall the last time 1000 people attended a Sunday football match (can anyone else?). Not even the finals attract crowds like that, and this was round 2! This is not even a record attendance for SE Dons. When 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 (Step 1) Clubs can attract. The fact that a Sunday football team is can attract higher attendances than professional football teams is astonishing.  If Baiteze go far in this competition, they could attract record crowds.

I will conclude by giving huge credit to both teams for contributing to what was an entertaining football match. Both teams should be proud of their performance.

AFC Hammersmith Town -v- Highgate Albion: Middlesex FA (@MiddxFA) Sunday Premier Cup Quarter-Final (Match Report)


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)

AFC Hammersmith Town (light blue and yellow shirts) v Highgate Albion (dark blue)

BACKGROUND

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

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.

Free kick to Highgate

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

AFC Hammersmith Town -v- Highgate Albion: Middlesex FA (@MiddxFA) Sunday Premier Cup Quarter-Final (Match Report)


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)

AFC Hammersmith Town (light blue and yellow shirts) v Highgate Albion (dark blue)

BACKGROUND

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 23 months. 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

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 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.

Free kick to Highgate

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.

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 or 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 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

#FASundayCup Dark Horses: Grand Athletic – The Team That Forgot How to Lose


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.

Team Origins

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:
Established: 2020
Metropolitan Sunday League champions (2020-2021)
London FA Sunday Challenge Cup winners (2020-2021)

Who Will Win the #AFCON2022?


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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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

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.

Nigeria

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

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

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.

CAN A TEAM FROM ESSEX WIN THE FA SUNDAY CUP? PRIORY SPORTS FC: #OUTFROMTHESHADOWS


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


FA Sunday Cup, Round 2 Draw

(Games to be played on Sunday January 16, 2022)

Some notes:

  • 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

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)
Kick-off: 1pm

Skew Bridge


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

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?

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