Saturday 2nd December 2017 ko 14.00
Combined Counties League Division One
SHEERWATER 5 (Rideout 30secs 6 Wilson 3 Machay 35 76)
AC LONDON 1 (Silva 69) Dallal sent off (DOGSO) 35
Sheerwater is of course the home of mod band The Jam. Paul Weller, Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler were all residents of this 1950’s suburb of Woking before hitting the big time with their first single “In the City.” It is a typical commuter town’s suburb with the community’s facilities all at the southern edge but within all of that the local football club has a real problem.
Without doubt the pressure is increasing on those Step 6 clubs whose grounds fail ground grading. The reasons for failing are varied, sometimes it’s because the ground isn’t enclosed and a common one is lack of floodlights, but Sheerwater’s reason is unusual, they do have floodlights, it’s just that they are the wrong ones!
The root of all Sheerwater’s problems is their base at Woking Athletic Ground, in Blackmore Road. It is an athletics stadium first and foremost, and while that doesn’t necessarily rule out football, the two sports do tend to be uneasy bedfellows, and here it’s even more of the case.
Until 4 years ago the club were unable to use the stadium from April to September, and were forced to use the pitch outside. Fortunately that’s no longer the case, mainly it seems because Woking Athletic Club have moved out. But while that issue has gone, the floodlight problem hasn’t. It must be extremely galling to have a facility with floodlights but knowing they’re useless to you as they only light the running track.
But in the medium term those floodlights won’t matter. The stadium is earmarked for housing, with the club hoping to move to a new ground at the new leisure centre built as part of the planning gain for next season. The problem is that the plans show nothing that would comply with Step 6 ground grading, and there simply isn’t the money within the club to groundshare anywhere long term.
The club therefore find themselves in a Gordian knot of conflicting circumstances. They’re in an unsuitable stadium that they don’t own, can’t improve, can’t build , and there’s nowhere for them to go. They don’t want to have to drop down into the Surrey Elite Intermediate League and move to a park pitch somewhere, they are successful on the pitch with only another club with ground grading problems, Worcester Park, above them.
The tragedy of the piece though is what a vibrant club they are. Led by the indefatigable club secretary Trevor Wenden the welcome is as fulsome as the programme is excellent. It really put the club’s problems in perspective, the club is healthy in all areas except for the ground.
The visitors are nothing if not interesting. AC London are still very much the baby of owner/chairman/secretary/manager Prince Chaudary and I was fortunate to witness their final home game at Crystal Palace Athletics Stadium just over 2 years ago.
That was during their first season in the footballing pyramid in the Kent Invicta League (Now Southern Counties East League Division One) and they had a controversial season with two abandoned games due to fighting. They moved into a long-term groundshare at Whyteleafe and the change of location saw them switch laterally to the Combined Counties League; a move I suspect that saved the Invicta League taking a more difficult decision. Nevertheless Prince Chaudary was wearing his Invicta League top, I wonder if there’s a rule against that?
You could see why they’ve had problems in this game; there is an edge to everything they do, down even to the attitude of the substitute asked not to run in football boots on the running track. Removing the boots and walking around in his socks was infantile in the extreme, and you wondered what might have happened if the game had been closer. Their tempers seemed on edge throughout the game.
Those tempers should have been aimed at themselves as AC London’s defending was the worst I’ve seen as this level all season. As a spectacle the game was over in the first 6 minutes, you simply should not concede a goal every 2 minutes, and the dismissal of Dallal that directly led to Machay making it 4-0 was the perfect example of how to hand 3 points to your opponents on a silver salver.
The visitors did improve in the second half, but then they could hardly had got worse. But for all of Sheerwater’s excellence, and AC London’s inepitude there was as ever a bigger picture.
All too often a club’s struggles to get suitable facilities end up impacting on the team. Here so far it hasn’t and that fact reflects extremely well on Trevor and his management team. As is so often the case the impasse is usually caused by those in authority failing to adapt to what’s needed rather than wanted, or those elected failing to get full value out of planning gain.
Far too often at Sheerwater I found myself comparing them to Headington Amateurs, a side at the same level, but still forced to play on an unenclosed, roped-off pitch through no fault of their own. I walked back to my car praying that they manage to avoid their fate.