Monday, 30 January 2017

Banstead Athletic v Eversley & California

Standing on a raised concrete slab to gain a better view of the players' arrival.
It's funny the things you remember. Back when I lived in Portsmouth as a late teen / early twenty-something, I knew this lad who just couldn't talk to girls. So tongue-tied, so shy. He would have done anything to get a girlfriend, but whenever a girl came near, he would effectively shrivel up and disappear. He might as well have been wearing an invisibility cloak. We would give him advice, try and help him out, but nothing ever worked.

Then one evening, he did the strangest thing. We were out at a gig, standing near the front, waiting for the main act to come on. It goes without saying that we'd had a few beers, but even so, I don't think I'd have ever had the nerve to do what he did.

Without warning, he laid down in front of a girl we vaguely knew from our little scene. He then covered his face with his overcoat and lay with his arms stretched rigidly down by his sides. We all looked at each other - this shrinking violet, this totally anonymous guy that never drew attention to himself in any way at all, was being weird.

The girl looked nonplussed at first, but then we noticed a little smile. She knelt down, gently drew the overcoat away from our chum's face, and he sat up, eyes wide open, arms rigid and horizontal in front of him, vacant thousand yard stare, mouth open, baring his teeth. He then turned his head slowly round to face her and said, poker-faced, "I'm a vampire!"

She cracked up, couldn't stop laughing. For the rest of the evening, they were inseparable. I don't remember what happened after that, but for all I know, they got married, had babies, and lived happily ever after.

I don't remember this lad's name, or anything else about him, other than he supported Crystal Palace, and had grown up in Banstead in Surrey.

Big fluffy clouds welling up behind Banstead Athletic's seated stand.
Banstead Athletic FC (3) 4 v 1 (1) Eversley & California FC
Saturday 28th January 2017
Cherry Red Records Combined Counties League Division One
Attendance: 35-ish
Admission: £6
Programme: £2
Colours: Old gold / black / black v Blue and white hoops / blue / blue and white hoops
National Grid reference: TQ2357

Where were we again?
Vampire Boy is the only person I've ever knowingly met from Banstead. I can never recall names of fleeting acquaintances or temporary workmates, but I do generally remember where people come from and the football teams they support. It's just the way I am.

I visited Banstead on Saturday. Not to look for Vampire Boy (who would now be an unrecognisable Middle-Aged Dracula), but to watch a game of football in the Cherry Red Records Combined Counties League Division One (step 6 in the non-league pyramid - equivalent to Wessex One).

I normally write about clubs in the Wessex and Hampshire Leagues, with the odd diversion higher up the pyramid to the Southern or National Leagues. But I always feature clubs from Hampshire, and there are a small number in the north-east of the county that play in mostly Surrey-based leagues, for example, Hartley Wintney, Cove and Eversley & California all play in the Combined Counties.

I've only featured Eversley & California once before (coincidentally, also against Banstead Athletic in that stupidly cold Spring of four years ago), so I thought it was about time I wrote about them again - and as they were playing the league leaders, this seemed like a good opportunity.

Two-goal hero AJ Morrison on the ball. Banstead's popular covered terrace behind him.
Three or four of my workmates usually ask where I'm going on a Saturday, and they invariably know the places I'm visiting, but Banstead, being out of my usual range, just drew blank stares. So, for those who don't know, Banstead Athletic actually play in neighbouring Tadworth. You would find them by exiting the M25 at junction 8 and driving towards Sutton for five minutes or so. You would veer left after three roundabouts, and then drive through sweet suburbia for another three or four minutes before reaching The A's Merland Rise ground.

Alternatively, the nearest train station is Tattenham Corner, approximately fifteen minutes walk from the ground. If Tattenham Corner sounds familiar, think back to June and the Epsom Derby. That's right, it's the final bend on the famous racecourse. It just so happens that I was almost an hour early arriving in Tadworth (I assumed I would probably get held up on either the A3 or M25 and allowed for that possibility by setting off before my AA app advised me to), so I stopped off on Epsom Downs to have a look at the racecourse.

You can park on the racecourse car park for free and wander over the large expanse of grass within the race track, joining dozens of dogs and their human companions. So I did. Down below you to the north, you can see London stretching off in to the distance, with teeny-tiny jumbo jets coming in to land at Heathrow every minute or so. In the foreground are the racecourse buildings, with a steep concrete terrace at the finishing line. I wondered why it's safe for behatted poshos to stand on that terrace guzzling champagne, and yet football fans at large stadiums have to sit down, shut up and not drink any alcohol whilst watching a game...

Banstead congratulate each other after their first goal, as a telecommunications mast / floodlight pylon stares down upon upon them from above.
After enjoying the view over London in the fresh air, I retraced my steps back to Merland Rise. You can live near Banstead Athletic's ground in a three-bedroom semi if you have a spare £463,000. How anybody can afford to live in this area of Surrey is beyond me, but live here they do, and 30 or so of the local residents had turned up to watch the table-toppers take on the team in fifth place.

Merland Rise is a very good ground for the level that The A's currently play at, but when you consider that Banstead were an Isthmian League side for around twenty seasons (with all the ground improvements that would have been required back then), then it's not so surprising.

The club car park is split in to two parts. By the back car park entrance is an abandoned turnstile block, which might come in handy again if the club regain their Isthmian status one day. Instead of paying at the turnstile, a woman sits at a picnic table by the entrance and takes your money, stowing it carefully away in an old ice cream tub.

Looking ahead and to your left, you will see three main structures: the popular terrace is directly in front of you, with a high roof; the less popular terrace is on your left behind the near goal, with a lower roof and less steps. Over the far side is a seated stand. Within this stand are four rows of backless red plastic seats, plus three cordoned off areas with more comfortable, blue plastic seats with backs, reserved for home officials, away officials and The Press. No "Press" here today, other than me and the home programme editor, who was busy snapping away and taking copious notes.

Excellent programme, by the way, very colourful and informative.

Ouch, wasn't that painful?! An Eversley defender crashes to the ground, but there was nothing he could do as Banstead score their third.
Eversley & California have been knocking on the door of promotion for several seasons now, only being denied through ground grading issues (floodlight arguments with neighbours, I believe) two seasons ago when they finished second in the league, whereas Banstead haven't finished higher than sixth in recent seasons. Indeed, the home club haven't won any league they've played in since 1965. It would be a rare and noteworthy achievement should they finish top this season.

However, they were shocked by their Hampshire-based visitors after just three minutes, when Eversley's James Osler shot home from close in on the right. Sam Jhonson-Freeman got a hand to it, but the ball trickled in to the far corner to put the visitors one up.

According to the programme, Banstead never know when they're beaten this season, and they proved as much after 15 minutes, when AJ Morrison scored from a similar position as Osler at the other end. This time, there was possibly a deflection off a defender which wrong-footed Charlie Lusty in Eversley's goal. Banstead celebrated under one of the imposing telecommunication masts / floodlight pylons which overlook the south side of the ground.

I have to assume that Banstead must make a few bob by renting out their floodlight pylons, as they play without any adverts, either on pitchside boards (very unusual) or on their shirts.

Morrison scored Banstead's second goal after 33 minutes when he headed a cross home from six yards. This was followed ten minutes later by the best goal of the game, as debutant Danny Penfold picked the ball up 30 yards out on the left and ran at Eversley's defence. There was no stopping him as he bore down on goal, walloping the ball home from the edge of the six yard box past despairing dives from Lusty and an unfortunate defender who appears to have landed on his neck in his desperation to keep the ball out of the net if the photo above is to be believed.

More fluffy clouds, glowing in Banstead Athletic club colours as the sun sets over Tadworth.
Banstead's most famous ex-player is arguably current Swansea City boss Paul Clement. One day, management team James Cameron and Rod Davis may well go on to manage at a higher level. If they do, they will never have an easier half-time team talk. All they had to do was to encourage their side to carry on as they were. Their tenacious appetite for victory was always going to be too much for Eversley.

The league leaders didn't even have to create their fourth and final goal for themselves, as an Eversley defender misplaced a pass straight to an unmarked Billy Frost, 25 yards from goal. One step forward, two steps forward, pick your spot and pass the ball into the net from eighteen yards. More celebrations for the team in old gold as the setting sun lit up the clouds above the stadium in club colours.

If Vampire Boy was in the ground (very unlikely with Palace at home on Saturday afternoon), he would have been impressed by the way that Banstead had scented blood and then proceeded to sink their teeth in to their opponents, with what may prove to be near-fatal consequences for Eversley's promotion chances this season.

Two rose-ringed parakeets squawked their appreciation as they flew over Merland Rise as the referee blew the final whistle. Banstead remained top of the CoCo Division One, one point ahead of Redhill. Three teams will go up this season to the Premier Division, but Eversley trail the final promotion spot by 11 points in sixth place. It's still doable, especially as they have games in hand, but sneaking in to third place will be tough for Hampshire's most northerly senior club.

I shall post another 40 or so photos on the HAH Facebook page on Tuesday teatime.

Next up, I shall be on more familiar territory, as I visit a Hampshire League club in the Portsmouth area on February 11th.

Well, there'll be no climbing up there this afternoon...

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