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

bran6
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

img_4980_fotor
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.

A day to remember

image
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.

New horizons

cr3
Sir Tom Cowie Millfield Ground, Crook

Crook Town AFC

Now playing in a stadium named after an influential North-Eastern businessman who helped the club survive, Crook became the first English club side to tour India in the mid-70s which included a 1-0 loss to the Indian national side in front of 100,000 spectators.

Crook have had several notable players represent them, key among them being England international Jack Alderson, Chelsea and Liverpool player and Scotland international David Speedie, and Barcelona wing-half and later Barcelona manager Jack Greenwell. The English flag still remains on the Barcelona club crest in recognition of Mr. Greenwell’s achievements, which include five Catalonian championships and two Copa del Reys.

Armed with formidable players who would go on to bigger and better things, Crook gained an impressive collection of silverware between the turn of the century and the 1960s, most notably four Durham Challenge Cups and five FA Amateur Trophies. Their best attendance game whilst competing for the latter in 1952 against Walton and Hersham, where 17,500 people saw them march on to victory and eventually lift the trophy.

Photos courtesy of Streets Paved With Goals. More below:

Football’s Lost Homes: 20 and out

IMG_20150908_125127_Fotor
Conquest Club, Isleworth

Hounslow Borough

Formed in 1987 as Harrow Hill Rovers, they became Hounslow Borough in 2001. They had joined the Hellenic League the year previously and, despite becoming Hellenic League Division One East champions in 2005/06, they resigned from the league in 2007 and folded soon afterwards due to financial problems.

What remains of the ground are rusting goalposts and a crumbling clubhouse. Metropolitan Police had concerns over the safety of the building after graffiti, vandalism and squatting problems which led them to close off the area to the public. The ground only held 70 people, and had a maximum attendance of 65 in a game against Chalfont Wasps in 2003.

There are currently plans for a local school, who operate from a temporary site nearby, to built a permanent home on the land. There has been some resistance from residents and so far the old Conquest Club still remains as one last reminder of Hounslow Borough Football Club’s brief history.

More pictures below:

Two horse town

br6_Fotor
Brentwood Centre Arena, Brentwood

Brentwood Town

 The original Brentwood Town were reformed in 1965, who themselves replaced a previous team in the town called Brentwood and Warley who disbanded the same year. In 1970, Brentwood Town merged with Chelmsford City and were themselves disbanded, with the ground sold for housing.

This saw a club called Manor Athletic become the most senior team in Brentwood, allowing them to adopt the name of the town. They changed their name first to Brentwood Athletic, then to Brentwood and eventually to Brentwood Town in 2004, with the hopes of reviving senior football in the town.

Following a hugely successful career at Chelsea, AC Milan, Tottenham and West Ham United, England legend Jimmy Greaves joined the club in 1975. Brentwood became the only club for which Greaves did not score on his debut. In his final game for the club he scored a hat trick against Basildon United to win the Essex Senior League Cup.

International relations

ben3_Fotor
Mile End Stadium, London

Sporting Bengal United

Formed to encourage Asian football in London, Sporting Bengal are unusual in that they are operated by the Bangladeshi Football Association, who use the club to select players for the national team. The club had two representatives in the Bangladeshi national side at the 2010 South Asian Games, which they hosted. Bangladesh won the gold medal at the games, beating Afghanistan 4-0 in the final.

In 2005 they became the first of only two Asian teams to have competed in the FA Cup, alongside London APSA (now named Newham FC). They are also the first Asian team to have reached the 3rd round proper of the FA Vase.

In 1996 a team of Bangladeshi players based in London toured Bangladesh and there was a realisation that many talented players were being overlooked, so a selective team was established along with the UK branch of the Bangladesh Football Association to govern it.

A River Runs Through It

Hampton_0129_Fotor

Hampton and Richmond Borough

Also the former home to Chelsea Ladies FC, as well as a polling station during elections, Hampton and Richmond’s 3,500 capacity Beveree Stadium has an ancient stream flowing underneath which leads to the Thames. It is thought that this could have seen beavers around the area, hence the nearby Beaver Close and the club adopting the animal as their nickname.

Hampton and Richmond changed their name in 1999 to better signify the areas they represent, which includes Twickenham, Teddington and Whitton as well as Hampton and Richmond. They are the only senior club to represent these areas.

Co-writer of Steptoe and Son Alan Simpson is a supporter of the club, and television personality Paul Merton says he has been to numerous matches. Venezuelan actor Santiago Cabrera, famous for appearing in television series such as Merlin, Heroes and The Three Musketeers, played for the club in the late ’90s.