Saturday 25th March 2017, 1500 KO
Hampton & Richmond Borough FC vs Ebbsfleet United FC
Today was my first journey into the world of non-league football, and excited as I was, I arrived at the Beveree Stadium around two hours before kick off. It immediately struck me that this must be one of the most pleasant places to watch a game of football. The ground is a stone’s throw from one of the more idyllic stretches of the Thames, in the heart of South West London.
When I arrived I was directed into the players’ car park by a steward, which, despite the instantaneous desire to try and pull a very low level Ali Dia I decided wasn’t the best start. So, I pulled around into the fans’ area which as it turned out was a roped off field. I parted with the princely sum of £1 for what must be the cheapest parking in the Borough of Richmond-upon-Thames and headed to the gates.
A £12 ticket purchase later (which seems a bit steep for 6th tier football, but this is London and it’s 2017) I was in the ground and reading my programme (£2.50) – the Beveree Review. Compiled by Chris Hurst, it carries a lot of information about the squad and club, as well as community news and write ups from previous matches which for the unititiated (me) was a valuable source of context.
As this blog develops it will quickly become apparent that the ready availability of pies and/or pasties is a key factor in an enjoyable day for me. With that in mind, I headed into Hammonds Bar to grab a chicken pie and chips (£4) and to watch Lincoln take on Forest Green as the away fans started to arrive (but mainly the pie and chips). Although this was still a good hour and a half to kick off, there were six bar staff in Hammonds – I feel that almost every bar in London in could learn a lesson from Hampton & Richmond here.
One of my main complaints with professional football is the way fans are treated as consumers – to be tolerated and exploited. I really have to say that couldn’t be further from the case here. There was much more of a community atmosphere to proceedings. Home players were chatting amiably with fans pre-match with jokes flying back and forth between the two. It was really refreshing to see. It would have been easy to feel like I was intruding if not for how welcoming both sets of fans were.
Indeed, had it not have been for some suggestions by Chris and others, it’s likely this would have remained a private project to improve my photography as opposed to an attempt at a blog. Whether it was a good idea or not remains to be seen…
Anyway, onto the football, and although I’ll try to describe the game I don’t profess to be a sports journalist so don’t expect a great deal of accuracy!
A minute’s silence preceded the game, in memory of those who lost their lives in Westminster earlier in the week. The silence was impeccably observed by a boisterous crowd, and followed by a rousing round of applause.
Once the match kicked off, Hampton & Richmond settled quickly and dominated the first half, with on loan Forest Green Rovers front man Shamir Mullings looking dangerous. Despite this early dominance, Hampton & Richmond were unable to find the breakthrough they deserved as their final ball was often lacking. As for Ebbsfleet, they were resolute in defence, but didn’t seem able to establish themselves in midfield.
Throughout the half Ebbsfleet still posed a threat on the counter through the pace of their forward pairing, who were making the Beavers fans around me quite nervous at times.
In approximately the 30th minute (for it appears scoreboards are not necessary once you dip below League Two), Hampton & Richmond created the first clear opening. Or rather, Ebbsfleet created it for them. A hopeful bouncing ball in to Mullings caused completely unecessary confusion for the Ebbsfleet defenders, and as you can see in the photo (below left), their centre back swung at it like a one legged Morris Dancer and sliced it onto the crossbar and out for a corner.
However, all the best stories have that part in the middle where the protagonist aims squarely at his foot and releases the safety, and this was no different. In the 42nd minute, what threatened to be the game defining moment: a second yellow, and subsequent red, for Hampton & Richmond forward Duncan Culley. Culley had been causing problems for the Ebbsfleet back line, who were struggling with his and Mullings’ physicality. Adopting the maxim “go hard or go home”, Culley chased a long ball forward, challenged Ebbsfleet ‘keeper Nathan Ashmore, buried his studs in his chest and ended up going both hard and home.
I do believe it was a deserved second yellow, despite the furious protestations of the crowd around me. Some absolutely Barcelona-worthy theatrics from Ashmore left the home fans baying for blood. I will say at this point – an unexpected beauty of the smaller crowds and stadia at non-league grounds is that you can hear every insult from the crowd. They’re not all winners, but every now and then there are some absolute gems.
Nil-nil at the half.
Hampton & Richmond continued to dominate into the second half, with Harold Odametey starting to really pull the strings in midfield, which was enabled by their Antipodean midfielder Sam Gallagher always being available to move the ball on. I was sure the goal was coming, and on 55 minutes, sure as shit’s shit, I was wrong. The ball fell to Mullings and like a Vanarama Danny Welbeck he proved that being a beast outside the box, doesn’t necessarily translate inside. He fluffed his first bite at the cherry with a left footed slice, and when the ball dropped kindly again slammed it right footed into the ground and high over the crossbar into the Richmond sky.
Fortunately, the goal finally came in the 60th minute, and it was Odametey front and centre. Another long ball forward was flicked on by Mullings, and Ashmore came out to meet it. As it happens, he shouldn’t have, as Odametey turned out to be substantially faster (unsurprisingly) and lifted the ball neatly over the onrushing keeper into the unguarded net.
Cue much celebration and spilt beer, with the fans around me in good voice. They kept the end behind the Ebbsfleet keeper bouncing for almost the entire second half and Ashmore came in for some “good natured banter” as Richard Keys would call it. In fairness, there was some well deserved stick for an ill-advised hairstyle choice, reminiscent of 90s Nottingham Forest favourite Jason Lee.
It was all quiet though as far as Ebbsfleet were concerned. Coming off a five game winning streak (including the 8-0 demolition of Bishop’s Stortford midweek) their expectations from this match had clearly been higher than trailing 1-0 to ten men.
It would be remiss of me not to point out that at one point a single fan decided to try a rendition of the thankfully rarely-heard classic “Harry Roberts is our friend, he kills coppers”, which seemed particularly tasteless considering the events in midweek and particularly ironic following a very well observed minute’s silence pre-match. In fairness, other fans were quick to shut it down.
Shamir Mullings both did and didn’t give Hampton & Richmond a second goal, when he nutmegged the ‘keeper from 12 yards. It looked good from where I was stood, but the goal was disallowed for an earlier handball, and it looked costly when Ebbsfleet were awarded a penalty minutes later. However, Danny Kedwell’s penalty was too close to the Hampton ‘keeper who saved well pushing the ball out to his right. It was at this point that I really started to regret the limitations of my 18-55mm lens and committed to buying some lengthier glass before my next outing.
From then on The Beavers defended deep, and stoically, but (aided by some myopic refereeing) Ebbsfleet eventually found their equaliser with 90 minutes on the clock. I didn’t see it, because I wasn’t paying attention, but flashscores (brilliant website) assures me that it was 10 cap Grenadian international Bradley Bubb striking home at the near post. Bubb now takes his place as my least favourite Grenadian international as by this point I genuinely wanted The Beavers to win. If you’re interested, Jason Roberts is my favourite. Him and Benni McCarthy were a dream at Blackburn.
Hampton & Richmond could, and perhaps should have won, had they pushed for an equaliser, but instead took the ball to the corner from free kicks and throws in attacking positions. With an impartial head on, with 10 men against a team with the resources of Ebbsfleet, it was probably a sensible decision.
The attendance was announced as 1,028 (I think), which was bolstered by a sizeable travelling contingent from Ebbsfleet, probably in the region of 500 making the journey from Kent.
There were some really good performances on the pitch, most notably Hampton & Ricmond’s Odametey who was quick, strong and always seemed to have time of the ball. Mullings showed why he is on the books of a club higher up the league structure and had some fantastic hold up play, but also showed why he has been loaned down the league with some less composed work in the box. Honourable mention also to Hampton & Richmond’s Michael Kamara who was solid defensively and got forward well when given the opportunity. Sam Howes in goal was a reassuring presence, dominating his box and was unlucky not to get the clean sheet after a cracking penalty save.
Overall, my first experience of non-league football was a massively positive one. I had picked a great club to start at, one which seems to have a passionate fan base and a really dedicated core of supporters. Hampton & Richmond average around 600 fans per match and whilst (according to people I spoke to!) they don’t have a budget that compares to teams around them in the playoffs, you can see that this is a squad with ambition.
I doubt I’ll get the chance to go to a game next weekend, but I’ve got a couple lined up:
Chessington & Hook vs Farleigh Rovers
Metropolitan Police vs Needham Market
Portsmouth vs Plymouth Argyle (can’t miss the Dockyard Derby)