Tuesday 4th April 2017, 1945 KO
Chessington & Hook United FC vs Farleigh Rovers FC
Today was the perfect chance for my second venture into the world of non-league football, with Chessington & Hook United playing host to Farleigh Rovers in the Combined Counties League Division One.
Having attended a Vanarama South game for my introduction, I expected this to be a completely different experience again, and I wasn’t disappointed. I emailed the club a week or so before the match as I wasn’t sure what to expect from Level 10 football – what would the tickets cost, and most importantly, what sort of pies could I look forward to. I received an email back from Andy Ellis, the Chief Executive and 1st Team Assistant Manager welcoming me to the match and telling me to look him up when I got there.
From a photography perspective, following my last outing I had bought a better lens (18-300mm Nikon) and was looking forward to trying it out at an evening game. However, buying electronics from ebay once again thwarted my plans and I’m now in the middle of a returns battle.
So, on arrival at Chalky Lane – with my gash lens – I sought out Andy to find out a bit about Chessy. Operating at a level of football where a large number of their rivals pay players, Chessington & Hook operate on a smaller budget, with no help from the local council or FA. As such, admirably, Andy and his colleagues on the Executive Committee prioritise the health of the club over paying for short term success. Despite a relegation from the Premier Division last season, this is clearly a club on the up. A brand new pitch, and paid groundkeeper, are the result of this forethought, and genuinely it is a surface which would do justice to a team much higher up the pyramid. Throughout the pre-amble to the game the sound of work could be heard as the club is also redeveloping other parts of the ground, such as the fencing and area around the turnstiles.
Chessington were playing their final game of the season, and looking to finish strongly – perhaps securing third place and the resultant promotion. The visit of Farleigh Rovers, who had won their last outing 7-0 away to Epsom Athletic (also at Chalk Lane) would provide a stern test.
Considering the likely attendance (Chessington average 59 for home games, and I was assured it would be significantly lower for a weekday fixture), I took what I could get and plumped for some peanuts (dry roast, standard) from the bar while I read my programme (free – like the admission!). Then, across the yard, I saw those two magic words “Snack Bar” and £2.70 later I was tucking into a nice, hot cheeseburger. Which considering it was about 10 degrees and getting colder, was absolutely bang on.
So, once again, onto the football and the big story going into the match was that this was the final match for today’s Chessington skipper, Martyn Gange. Going into the match with 18 goals from 25 starts for the season, he’d be hoping to go out on a high. On top of that, and demonstrating the difficulty in getting players at times, Chessington would have four members of Andy’s U-18 side in the matchday squad.
Kick off, and within 4 minutes I’d done what I always do. Focused too much on my glorious burger, I missed Gange set up Arafat Kabuye to strike home from inside the 18 yard box. This was the second biggest event of the first ten minutes though, as a couple of minutes later, a frankly monstrous badger turd in the away penalty area led to a stoppage of play for (a) removal and (b) a hasty change of Farleigh ‘keeper Sallis’ boots. Upon the restart, Farleigh missed an almost immediate chance to draw level when good play down their left hand side resulted in the ball falling to number 7, Williams, in the area who dragged his shot just wide.
Both Kiemon Robinson and Kyle Green on the Chessington wings were giving their opposing full backs torrid times in the first half, with a mixture of jinky running and rapid bursts of acceleration. However, Fabien O’Brien, in a central midfield role for Farleigh, was causing problems of his own in the other half.
On 35 minutes Farleigh got a warning of what was to come when Kabuye sent Robinson free with a great through ball only for Robinson to strike the post with his shot. Just a few minutes later, the Farleigh right back pulled Robinson back inside the box and Gange stepped up to smash the resulting spot kick into the top corner. 2-0 at half time, and looking like game over.
However, in the second half, Farleigh came out all guns blazing – O’Brien really coming to the fore. For 25 minutes it looked for all the world that Farleigh would get a way back into the game, and so it proved on 62 minutes, when O’Brien scored what a Farleigh fan would describe to me as a “disgusting” right footed lob to reduce the arrears. O’Brien was really having a good game, and despite ending up on the losing side could arguably claim to be the best player on the pitch, with some great footwork drawing numerous fouls.
The second half was a feisty affair, with a number of yellow cards. Some were pretty mundane (kicking the ball away), but seeing Chessington’s number 3, J Flack, get a yellow card for calling the referee boring was pretty special. I suspect if that rule was implemented as stringently at Premiership level Wayne Rooney might never finish another match. Some great abuse was forthcoming, both for the ref and some of the home team – particularly supposedly-retired ‘keeper Mark Daniels – from the small travelling band who had made their way over from Croydon to support the Farleigh players.
Andy had told me to look out for his number 16, Ade Peters, who would be coming on in the second half. He was right. Peters came on around 75 minutes and sealed the game for Chessington, ending up with a goal and an assist in fifteen minutes. His goal came on 85 minutes when a lovely drilled pass out from Bas Morally put Peters in space on the right of the box, and he calmed clipped a finish in off the bar leaving Sallis no chance in Farleigh’s goal. Easily the goal of the night for me.
Chessington made another substitution, bringing on 17 year old Tyrell Munchia, who joined 16 year old centre back George Isaacs as the youth team players on the pitch. I have to say, considering his age playing against grown men, Isaacs was superb throughout and never shirked any challenges in the air or on the ground.
The fourth and final goal came in stoppage time as Peters again caused trouble down the right, moved the ball in to Morally in the box who drilled home low to the keeper’s left to round off the scoring.
So, with a 4-1 victory in the bag, Chessington & Hook United have ended their season and now wait to see how Bagshot in fourth will fare as they try to whittle away at their lead in the promotion places. As for Farleigh, this defeat leaves them stationary in 16th, but with Epsom rooted to the foot of the table on 6 points, and Dorking folding, they will surely be safe.
The people associated with both clubs were absolutely great, inviting me into the club, offering tea and helping me get all the information for the blog. Once again, I have been blown away at how friendly and welcoming non-league football is. I know it’s only my second game, but with free tickets and a genuinely enjoyable standard of football on offer, I don’t understand how more people don’t find themselves down at places like Chalky Lane to see the grass roots game. With that in mind – and considering the terrible photos my 18-55mm lens produced in the fading light – I will definitely be returning to Chalky Lane next season, where hopefully I can get some better pictures (on a 300mm!) of Chessington back in the Premier League.