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.

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.

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.

And out come the Wolves

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Metcalfe Park, Billingham

Wolviston

Founder members of the now defunct Wearside League Division Two, Wolviston were promoted to the Wearside Division One the following year, and, despite being league runners up on two occasions, they have remained there ever since. They have also seen success in the Sunderland Shipowners’ Cup, winning three times since the turn of the century.

The village of Wolviston has a very long history, and dates back to Anglo Saxon times. Local legend says the name comes from the wolves that used to live in the area. Former Middlesbrough midfielder Graeme Hedley runs a post office in the village.

Wolviston’s current stadium of Metcalfe Park lies close to Wynyard Hall, which has a rich history and has seen several royal visits over the years. The Wynyard Estate has had many famous residents, including Dragon’s Den’s Duncan Bannatyne and famous footballing names Kevin Keegan, Alan Shearer and Mick McCarthy.

Continents United

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Borough Sports Ground, Sutton

Sutton United

The Borough Sports Ground, whose blue seats were donated by Chelsea, has seen many famous cup ties in the past, including one with Don Revie’s Leeds United. Further afield, Sutton United share their name with a team in The Gambia after the famous amber and chocolate kits were donated to them in 2008.

The King’s men

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KGV Stadium, Guisborough

Guisborough Town

FA Vase runners up in 1980, Guisborough Town made the trip from the 3500 capacity King George V Stadium to the famous twin towers of the old Wembley Stadium, who’s turf was first cut by the same King. They lost 2-0 to Stamford FC.

Old relics of a new town

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Eden Lane, Peterlee

Peterlee Town

Originally formed as Peterlee Newtown, some of the markings around the ground still bear the old name, before they became Peterlee Town in 2006. The team disbanded in 2013 after financial difficulties.

With a little help from my friends

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Moor Lane, Salford

Salford City

Bought by the ‘Class of 92’ ahead of the 2014/15 season, new co-owners Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt and Phil Neville are aiming for Championship football within 15 years. They currently play in the 8th tier of English football.

Wood you believe it

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Wibbandune Sports Ground, Merton

Colliers Wood United

Founded in 1874, Colliers Wood United are one of the oldest clubs in the country. They moved to their current stadium, Wibbandune, in 1991 due to expansion restrictions at their previous residence. The ground backs directly onto the A3 dual carriageway in Coombe near Kingston Upon Thames.