Caversham United? Who are They?

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 emulating Roma’s Twitter page to being called the GOAT admin

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!”

Tom Neal, Non-League Snapshots
Twitter: @NLSnapshots
Facebook: Facebook.com/NonLeagueSnapshots

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.

Paper wings

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Brandon

Brandon United

From Waste Paper to Northern League Champions: The Rollercoaster Ride of Brandon United

Brandon were originally the works team of a waste paper company named Rostrons, which seems like it could be a spin-off of The Office. Based in County Durham a little way south of Durham, the town of Brandon has a rich coal mining history, which is reflected on the club’s new crest which bears a shovel and pickaxe crossed behind a mining helmet. It’s a village that dates back to medieval times, and what follows is several hundred years of strange and confusing lordships, Royal lessees and something called a whim-gin. Founded in 1968, they have since worked their way through Sunday and amateur leagues and eventually into the Northern League, gaining promotion in 1983 and remaining there ever since.

They have won the FA Sunday Cup, reached the FA Cup first round proper on two occasions – the first coming on their first ever FA Cup appearance where they were knocked out by Bradford City at Spennymoor United – and they also reached the FA Vase quarter finals, all coming during a spell of dominance in the 1980s which also saw them become Northern League Division Two champions. Paul Dalton, a member of that successful Brandon side, went on to be signed by Alex Ferguson for Manchester United and later commanded a quarter of a million pound transfer fee when Plymouth bought him from Hartlepool (my trusty inflation calculator tells me that’s worth over half a million in today’s money). He’s immortalised at Plymouth’s Home Park with an image of him, alongside other Argyle greats, adorning the walls inside the stadium.

Since then, Brandon’s home at Welfare Park has seen some tumultuous times; from the 3000-capacity stadium’s record attendance of 2,500 in an FA Sunday Cup game to relegation to the Northern League Division Two, where they are today. Since their relegation to the second division in 2006 following financial troubles that threatened the future of the club, Brandon have finished in the bottom three 6 times, including a rock bottom finish in 2014/15 and escaping relegation by a single point in 2017/18.

But if there’s a club that knows anything about turning fortunes around, it’s Brandon United. Four years after finishing 6th in the Wearside League in the 1981/82 season, they got promoted, worked their way up through the Northern League Division Two, become champions, got promoted to Division One and finished an impressive 10th, coming in 7th place by the 1988/89 season. 1998 saw them finish second-bottom in Division Two, five years later they were Division One champions after losing just four games all season. It’s been a long slog in Division Two for Brandon having been there since 2006 (their longest ever spell in this division), but if history in this league has taught us anything it’s to never write them off.

Tom Neal, Non-League Snapshots

Twitter: @NLSnapshots

Facebook: Facebook.com/NonLeagueSnapshots

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.

Photo courtesy of Streets Paved With Goals.

Old School

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Imber Court, East Molesey

Chertsey Old Salesians

The team was set up in 1970 after ex-pupils of Salesian School (formerly Salesian College) wanted to continue to play football together, and at their peak in the ’80s and ’90s they ran seven sides. True to their roots, they still encourage Salesian alumni to join the club, although they welcome anyone to play.

Chertsey’s Salesian School was established in 1921 by Salesian Brothers, a Roman Catholic institute that was formed in the late 1800s with a view to helping disadvantaged children during the industrial revolution. They have several notable alumni, including film director John Boorman, actor Martin Freeman and former Arsenal and England U21 player Ian Selley.

The club have a history of attracting higher-level players to take a step down from semi-professional level as they are impressed by their values and the way the club is run, something that Old Salesians are very proud of.

Football’s Lost Homes: Mitcham Stadium

Tooting and Mitcham/Croydon Rovers

Tooting and Mitcham played at Sandy Lane, near Figge’s Marsh in Mitcham, between 1932 and 2002. It was eventually declared a fire hazard and they moved to their current stadium at Imperial Fields in Morden. The site is now a housing estate, and some of the roads are named after former players; such as Hasty, Slade and Stepney.

In 1974 they were knocked out of the first round of the FA Cup by a Crystal Palace side that included Terry Venables and Peter Taylor in front of a crowd of 10,000 at Sandy Lane. The record attendance at the ground, though, was 17,500 against QPR in 1956.

In an alleyway across the road from the former site of the Sandy Lane ground is the only reminder of the area’s sporting heritage; the foundations of the ground which stood opposite, Mitcham Stadium. Although more regularly home to rugby club Streatham and Mitcham, it also held home matches for Croydon Rovers for a season in the mid-1950s. The main stand, which held around 2600 fans, was sold to Leyton Orient in 1956 and is still in use at their Brisbane Road ground today.

Alerta!

Clapton FC

The Old Spotted Dog is the oldest senior football ground in London, with Clapton calling it their home since 1888, ten years after their formation. A hunting lodge originally stood on the site, often used by Henry VIII. The grade II listed lodge then became the Old Spotted Dog pub which, after falling into disrepair and eventually becoming abandoned, triggered a campaign by the club to resurrect it.

The club is steeped in history, with club legend Walter Tull being widely recognised as the first black professional footballer in the country, as well as the first black British Army officer. They are also recognised by the Football Association as being the first English club to have played on the continent, traveling to Antwerp in 1890 to beat a Belgium XI 8-1.

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Their connection to the continent also extended to the fans, with a section of the support who modeled themselves on the “ultras” popular in Europe and beyond coming to games in droves, bringing banners and flares to games and campaign against far-right politics. Irreconcilable differences between the fans and the board meant that a new club was formed – Clapton CFC. They pride themselves on the motto “football for all” and provide a warm and friendly environment for refugees and other minorities.

 

Football’s Lost Homes: Leyton

Leyton FC

Although Leyton only began playing in 1997, they won a High Court case to say that they are officially a continuation of the original club of the same name, founded in 1868. This means that they were one of the oldest clubs in London, second only to Cray Wanderers who were formed eight years previously.

Their days back in competitive football were numbered, though, as an investigation by HMRC in 2009 led to the conviction and imprisonment of their chairman – who had also named himself manager on several occasions – and former director for their part in a £16 million VAT fraud. Despite an unbeaten run of six games at the end of the 2009/10 season, they finished in the relegation zone. They were awarded a reprieve due to the misfortunes other clubs around them, but the inevitable was merely being delayed and they withdrew from the league in January, subsequently folding. Their final attendance was a crowd of 45.

The ground still stands, and after a period where the pitch was used to house a gazebo for the local Indian restaurant, is now land dedicated for use as a car park, despite the remains of the ground crumbling around it.

A day to remember

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Non-league grounds across the country

Non-League Day

Started in 2010, Non-League Day began as a social media experiment after the founder, James Doe, was inspired by a pre-season visit to Tavistock while watching Queens Park Rangers. Since then, the scheme has gained the backing of not just of non-league clubs, but high-profile celebrities and Members of Parliament as well.

Non-League Day is always scheduled to take place during the international break to encourage fans of League teams to support a non-league club without missing any games. Many clubs have recorded a large increase in gate receipts during this time, bringing in valuable finance to teams that place such a large importance on the money that supporters bring in.

This year Non-League Day will return across the country for the sixth consecutive occasion on Saturday 10th October, and will be partnered with Prostate Cancer UK to raise money and awareness for the charity, as well as the values that non-league football promotes.

For more information, visit the website by clicking here.

At the races

Tilbury FC

Tilbury were formed in the late 1800s and moved to Orient Field after World War I. The ground was leased to the club for a reasonable price by a director of Leyton Orient, which is how it got its name. During World War II it was used as an anti-aircraft battery, after which they were told to become Orient’s feeder team or vacate the ground, an offer they refused.

They did not have to look very far for a new home, though, as they moved to the adjoining grounds which was a former greyhound racing venue that had fallen into disrepair. Tilbury locals joined with the club to help improve the stadium, and good cup runs in the ’40s along with the sale of goalkeeper Tom Scannell to Southend United allowed them to buy the stadium outright.

In 1970 they built a unique concrete stand, which houses the changing rooms underneath the seats of the spectators, who have a view of the pitch through a row of glass windows.

 Photo courtesy of Streets Paved With Goals.

By Royal decree

Stag Meadow, Windsor
Stag Meadow, Windsor

Windsor FC

Windsor were formed following the winding up of Windsor and Eton who had been suffering from long-running financial problems which had seen them make numerous appearances in court before finally folding. The new club was formed by fans of the original team and operates as a social enterprise which sees them participate in many charity events, which included a season with Helen & Douglas House hospice as shirt sponsor.

Although they were formed in 2011, Windsor’s home of Stag Meadow is 100 years older than the club that play there, having been home to Windsor and Eton for all but 19 years of their 119 year existence. It had originally been placed by order of the Monarchy that grounds should exist within Windsor’s famous Great Park specifically for the purpose of football.

For four seasons, between 2003 and 2007, Slough Town ground shared at Stag Meadow after financial disagreements drove them out of their home at Wexham Park.

More photos:

North to South

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Reynolds Field, Perivale

Hanwell Town

Nicknamed The Geordies, Hanwell Town were formed in the 1920s by a group of people who had moved to the West London area from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, also adopting The Magpies’ famous black and white stripes as their home colours.

They moved from the Ealing Sports Ground to their current home at Reynolds Field in 1981, which was inaugurated with a match against Tottenham Hotspur. Stephen Pound, the Member of Parliament for Ealing North and Shadow Minister for Northern Ireland, used to play for the club before he took up a career in politics.

The ground backs on to the A40 trunk road going through Perivale. It continues to be improved; with floodlights, a new stand and disabled facilities added since the club moved to the area. They also recently built the Bob Fisher stand, in honour of the club’s chairman who has served with them for 50 years.