Monday 17th April 2017, 1500 KO
Tooting & Mitcham United FC vs Carshalton Athletic FC
To round off my Bank Holiday weekend, I headed over to watch a Ryman League Division One South top of the table clash. Champions elect Tooting & Mitcham were to take on 6th placed Carshalton Athletic in an Easter Monday South London derby.
Tooting & Mitcham currently sit top of the league, 3 points ahead of Dorking Wanderers with only 6 points to play for. A win against Carshalton today would guarantee the title and subsequent promotion as the Terrors’ goal difference is significantly better than Dorking’s. However, with Dorking away to Guernsey, there would be the opportunity to seal things today.
Promotion would mean a lot to Tooting & Mitcham, based at Imperial Fields, Morden. Having been relegated from the Ryman Premier Division in 2012 the club – formed in 1932 in a merger between Tooting FC and Mitcham Wanderers FC – have been striving to get back to that level ever since. With Frank Wilson leading a free-scoring team, surely this year will be their year. Tooting & Mitcham’s main threats would come in the form of Billy Dunn and Michael Dixon, who between them have plundered 49 league goals this season. Gas engineer Billy Dunn has already exceeded his target of 20-25 goals for the season.
As for Carshalton Athletic, 6th in the table leaves them one place short of the play offs. However, with only two points separating them from 5th placed Hastings, they’re still very much in with a shout. Hastings are away to Lewes today, themselves eying a late shot at the playoffs, so there is a potential for much change in the status quo by 1700 today. Carshalton have also been banging the goals in this season, only Hastings and Tooting & Mitcham have scored more. This has largely been down to the exploits of 29-goal academy graduate Tommy Bradford. He’ll be hoping for more today and the chance to overtake Shaun Okojie of Corinthian Casuals at the top of the scorer’s charts.
Carshalton are a storied club, and have played at a high level in the not too distant past. As recently as 2006 they were playing in the Conference South, on Step 2 of the National League system.
On my arrival at Imperial Fields, I was expecting a large crowd. A local derby, with the title at stake, on a bank holiday should surely have been enough to well exceed Tooting & Mitcham’s 225 average for the season. I wasn’t disappointed – by kick off, there must have been around 6-700 people inside the KNK Stadium, which is an absolutely massive ground for a club operating in Step Four of the National League System.
The Shak greets visitors to the KNK, with Caribbean themed food which is a nice touch setting Tooting & Mitcham apart from the majority of clubs. A £10.00 ticket seemed steep, especially as this is the same as I was charged by the Met Police a league higher, and then a £2.00 programme and £3.80 for a jerk chicken patty, chips and Diet Pepsi took the expenditure over £15.00.
The refereeing team started off as they meant to continue – behind time and a little bit shabbily. Kicking off three minutes late, Tooting & Mitcham in their traditional black and white stripes, versus Carshalton in lurid, garish, horrific green.
I had positioned myself with the Tooting & Mitcham fans, who were a rowdy bunch, with banners and flags adorning the terraces. Their rowdiness was understandable with the title on the line and a club bar which had been open since 1130!
The first big chance of the match came on 17 minutes, when Terrors centre forward Mike Dixon latched onto a loose, bobbling ball. His lifted shot with the outside of the right boot lobbed the Tupper in the Carshalton goal but drifted just wide.
Five minutes late, Chace O’Neill, sporting a pony tail and looking like a middle aged Metallica fan, fired a great shot just over from 35 yards. O’Neill would prove to be a threat all day, and it was clear very quickly that he was going to be the catalyst for any decent football to be played today.
The game settled into a pattern midway through the first half. Tooting & Mitcham would have the majority of the ball, but struggling to break down Carshalton were often resorting to long balls for burly front man Dixon to chase. When they did get the ball on the deck, it was apparent that O’Neil, Claudiu Hoban and Sandy Cunningham were capable of some nice interplay, but it just didn’t happen often enough.
On 25 minutes, Tooting & Mitcham were denied what seemed a nailed on penalty when Cunningham, trying to get a shot away, was pulled down by one Carshalton player, whilst simultaneously having his legs done by another. The referee, in a good position, made one of a number of questionable calls and waved play on.
Tooting & Mitcham again missed a glorious chance to grab the opener when Cunningham reacted to a flick on by Dixon and nudged a header against the upright. At the other end, Carshalton sporadically threatened on the counterattack, and it looked like the classic smash and grab was on the cards when they were awarded a very presentable free kick on 45+2. Tommy Bradford lined it up, sized up the ‘keeper, I was ready behind the goal for the action shot, and he promptly drilled it straight into the wall. With that, the referee blew up and it was all square at half time.
Having been promised (by Wikipedia) a half-time divot stamping by “one of the club’s more amply proportioned followers” I was disappointed that the interval passed without note, and play began for the second period.
Again, the Terrors settled in to dominate the game, and their fans were getting particularly riled by what they saw as some theatrics by the Carshalton players. As a result, the self styled “Black and White Army” began to really get on the back of the ref. In particular, they were incensed by left winger Ricky Korboa who they felt was throwing himself to ground unnecessarily. In fairness, I was next to the away dugout after Korboa was subbed, and the chap could barely walk. It was quite obvious he had been on the receiving end of some agricultural challenges.
Perhaps this continual criticism was playing on Tristan Greaves mind when he ignored a blatant elbow by Tooting & Mitcham’s Sol Patterson-Bohner. The Terrors captain driving his arm into the face of an opposition completely unnecessarily.
After 67 minutes, and having ploughed a lonely furrow all match, Mike Dixon was joined up front by top scorer Billy Dunn. Both Dunn and Dixon are big, strong players, and it is obvious how they have had success in this division. It will be interesting to see how they fare in the Ryman Premier, where the defenders are generally stronger and more aggressive than at this level.
O’Neill continued his showing as the creative outlet with a right footed drive from outside the area sailing just over. With the clock entering the last ten it looked as though Tooting & Mitcham would be getting the draw they needed to secure the title. Then, with 81 minutes gone, any doubt was expunged when substitute Jordan Wilson met a free kick at the back post and snuck his header in at the near post.
The already boisterous Tooting & Mitcham fans went beserk, with a mini-pitch invasion completely foxing the stewards. My favourite moment of this was when a young fan, probably six or seven, received a stern bollocking from his old man for running on the pitch. As his old man was walking off the pitch.
The goal was the cue for Carshalton to have their best spell of the game, and for ten minutes Tooting & Mitcham were under the cosh. With Frank Wilson pacing to and fro in the dugout, and assistant manager Paul Dale throwing some intriguing shapes, the home fans roared their team on. Finally, after five minutes of stoppage time, the referee blew the whistle and Tooting & Mitcham could celebrate.
Unfortunately, Dorking also won today, 4-2 away at Guernsy. Although not guaranteed yet, the Terror’s goal difference leaves them almost certain of the title. So, prematurely, congratulations to Tooting & Mitcham on winning the Ryman League Division One South. A massive points haul of 105, with a game still to play, is a genuinely impressive achievement. The club has a set up which should be gracing a much higher level – indeed, the ground, pitch and facilities would not look out of place in the Vanarama South at least. Their fans are vociferous, and remind me of being in the Crystal Palace Holmesdale End.
In the interests of fairness, the playing style is not the most attractive, with a definite emphasis on hitting the big front men as quickly as possible, but it works. With the diminutive Cunningham running of Dixon, there was at least some variation. As for Carshalton, this result leaves them running out of options to make the play offs. It’s a shame for them, as they are a great club, but short of cash. A very physically small team, they found it difficult to impose themselves on this game.
In terms of players, I liked watching Dixon. Absolutely everything stuck to him, he was strong, with a low centre of gravity, and with an arse like Dawn French, used it well to protect the ball. Slightly better composure in the box and he could have ended the match with a brace. As mentioned, O’Neill was the creative spark for Tooting & Mitcham, and had the knack of always appearing to have time on the ball. In the Carshalton goal, Tupper kept the game alive with a few good saves, including two point blank efforts.
All the best to the Tooting & Mitcham players and management team, and enjoy the celebrations which I’m sure will continue into the night.