Caversham is a suburb of Reading in Berkshire. It has a lot of history, having been mentioned in the Domesday Book and was apparently visited by Catherine of Aragon who came to see some stuff that Henry VIII subsequently decided would look better as a pile of rubble back in the 16th century.
The most established football team in the area are arguably Caversham AFC, not to be confused with New Zealand’s team of the same name, who compete in the country’s second tier and play at a ground with the extremely specific capacity of “between 500 and 536 people”. Don’t you dare show up at Tonga Park if you’re the 537th person through the gate unless you have some kind of death wish. The Berkshire-based side have numerous youth teams, as well as male and female senior sides, and play at a place that apparently has the nickname “The Swan’s Lair”, despite the fact that swans definitely don’t have lairs due to the fact that they are neither dragons nor villains from a 1970s James Bond film. They compete in the Reading and District Sunday League Premier Division and have 50 teams in total, with over 800 players and a Twitter page with 600 followers which is very impressive for a Berkshire-based Sunday League side.
But a couple of divisions below them lies an entirely different beast. Caversham United will play in the RDSL’s Division Two after somehow gaining a double promotion last season (I asked why and no-one seems to know), narrowly beating a team called Borussia Teeth to second place in Division Three. Among their 4300-and-counting followers on Twitter are a couple of teams you may have heard of; AS Roma, Bayern Munich, Valencia, Ajax, Benfica, Bayer Leverkusen, Cologne. Also Cineworld Cinemas for some reason. Basically, if you like football and have the internet, you’ve probably come across them this year.
When the club’s “Mr Caversham” (probably not his real name, unless it’s a really spooky case of nominative determinism) got involved, they looked very different. “Caversham United were formed in 2015 as the rebirth of AFC Palmer following a change in management”, he tells me. “The club was in a dire financial position and off the back of a terrible season, looking likely to fold before the current management stepped in from the playing ranks”. A lowly 70 followers on Twitter seemed the least of their problems, until they looked to an unlikely team for inspiration. “We were inspired initially by AS Roma’s engaging Twitter style and then Saint Anthony’s FC, who Roma adopted as their Team of the Day one weekend. After seeing the interest generated by a lower level club, we decided to use our Twitter a bit more proactively”
From there, things skyrocketed. Competitions and posts on their increasingly-influential Twitter page resulted in an overhaul of the club’s image; a new kit, a redesigned club badge and a new and sleek graphic design package followed. After a poll, it was decided that their nickname would be the Billy Goats.
“It’s all a bit of a whirlwind”
Then came a partnership with Football Kitbox. Alongside a hugely important shirt sponsorship, they allowed the club something that is rarely – if ever – afforded to Sunday League clubs: worldwide distribution. “It’s all a bit of a whirlwind”, Mr Caversham says. “Their guidance was huge in helping us to engage our supporters. It’s crazy to see pictures of our kit at major landmarks around the world.”
So where does a club that has already achieved the impossible go from here? Well it turns out, there’s a lot more to come. After two promotions in a year, their aim in the league is to try and continue that upwards trend. “That’s the primary focus”, he says, “Staying up and pushing on!” Then there’s the small matter of the Caversham Cup. Alongside Balls to Cancer, the club have organised an 11-a-side tournament on Saturday 20th July to raise money for charity. Alongside the football there will also be a raffle, and in typical Billy Goats fashion, it’s not your average charity raffle. Current prizes include signed shirts from Bayer Leverkusen, St Pauli, Salford City, Cork City and fellow Twitter phenomenon Bulawayo Chiefs. “We hope to raise a decent sum of money from this. After that, who knows where the future lies”.
But the big question is: does all of this Twitter buzz translate to spectators at games? “Honestly, not really”, comes the answer. “But there are some and some who travel a fair distance to do so!” Whether or not more people decide to come out and watch a famous club for free remains to be seen, but that doesn’t stop the players still feeling a buzz at being involved with a club like Caversham. “It’s combination of disbelief and excitement. It really is mind boggling that people online tweet our players names and wear our shirts in their countries. Not many clubs at our level can probably say the same!”
Non-League Snapshots is a groundhopping video and photo blog that aims to tell the stories of lower league clubs around the country and the world. Tom Neal was raised in Redcar and now lives in London working in sports broadcasting after he realised he was absolutely never going to make it as a professional footballer.