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Monday 26th March 2018 ko 19.45

Southern Counties East League-Division One

SPORTING CLUB THAMESMEAD 3 (Weatherly 22 Patrick 61 Jeffery 71)

CROCKENHILL 1 (Brett 3)

Att 44

Entry £6

Programme – none, teamsheet FREE

Thamesmead is the kind of town that exists due to circumstance. It’s there to service the docks at Tilbury and other Thames dock towns, themselves only there because the Port of London docks were too small to service the huge new container ships so in the 1960’s the whole operation moved east and the town grew with the new industry. You could say that Docklands’ loss was Thamesmead’s gain, but the club in situ at Bayliss Avenue, Thamesmead isn’t the club that originally called the ground its home. The tale is a little tangled…

Bayliss Avenue was always and some would say still the home of Thamesmead Town, and the extensive improvements to the ground were made in no small part to allow the club to gain and maintain their Isthmian League status. As part of the improvements provision was made for a sports studio, and 6-a-side pitches, making the whole facility less a non-league football ground and more a community sports hub.

It’s an impressive place, but the impact on Thamesmead Town was devastatingly simple. When facility owner Peabody Trust raised the rent to a point where it was no longer economic to remain there, Town opted to sign a 5-year groundshare agreement with Dartford to move into Princes Park for the start of this season.

Now that could easily have turned Bayliss Avenue into a white elephant, but Thamesmead weren’t the only tenant. Sporting Club Thamesmead started life in 1900 as Seven Acre Sports. They changed named to Seven Acre and Sidcup in 2010 when moving to Cray Wanderers’ historic Oxford Road ground. The trouble was the reason for Cray’s departure, they couldn’t get planning permission for floodlights.

In 2011 Seven Acre became founder members the Kent Invicta League (now the Southern Counties East Division One) and sooner or they’d need lights to stay in the division. That was impossible at Oxford Road, so for the start of the 2016/7 season they moved once again to share Bayliss Avenue, with the change of name to their current one. It’s worth noting that the club still retain their base at Oxford Road, for youth, veterans and some reserve games.

The club seemed rather swamped by their home, to the extent that I was surprised to find the turnstiles locked, and the only clue that the game was still on was seeing the players warming up through a gap in the fence. I soon discovered the means of gaining entry is via the bar, entered via the main facility building.

Of course opponents Crockenhill know all about trouble getting floodlights. Wested Meadow is a ground any self-respecting groundhopper should make a beeline for, but their’s is the all-too-common tale of the NIMBY brigade stymieing their progress. The pressure has been on them to either move or light up but this season the pressure has been too much, after all how can you recruit when you know you’re going to be relegated no matter what happens on the pitch? The Crocks are rock-bottom of the table and seemed resigned to relegation to the Kent County League.

There seemed to be a little discomfiture on the part of the club over the lack of a programme.  It’s certainly not a prerequisite for me turning up, the fact that the club seemed rather embarrassed and produced a teamsheet instead I found rather endearing.

I, like just about everyone there expected a home win, so Crocks early goal was a shock. But gradually Sporting Club turned the screw, equalised reasonably quickly, then went on to win the tie comfortably.

The win was of course fully expected, but as I exited afterwards I found myself with more questions to ask than I’d had when I’d walked in 2 hours before. For Crockenhill, is home where the heart is, or would a groundshare offer a way back to this level? For Sporting Club Thamesmead, you wonder if the rent was too much for Thamesmead Town how can it be sustainable for a club operating a league lower down? And for the landlords Peabody Trust, surely two clubs paying some rent is better than just one?

I suspect the removal vans haven’t finished their work at Bayliss Avenue. The real question is whether they’ll be loading or unloading next time round?

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