About the Beveree The Beveree, which is often shortened to ‘the Bev’, has been the home of Hampton FC since 1959. It is situated in Beaver Close, off Station Road in the heart of Hampton village hence why it gets its unusual name. It has a total capacity of 3,350, with 362 of this being seated and 1000 in covered terracing. On 11 October 2005, that capacity was tested with a record crowd of 2,520 turning out for an Isthmian League match between Hampton & Richmond Borough and AFC Wimbledon. At the start of the 2008/09 West Ham brought a full team squad down to the Beveree for a friendly and the crowd was over 3,000 although that record was likely to be broken with a 3,000+ crowd for the game on the 18th April 2009.In June 2006, work began on transforming the clubhouse and changing rooms at the Beveree into a more modern facility. Work was completed by the end of Summer, and the new look clubhouse was officially opened by FA Chief Executive, Brian Barwick, on 26 August 2006. The ground is named after that large house (now a preparatory school) that still overlooks it today, and in whose grounds the pitch was first laid out. Hampton moved from Hatherop Road to The Beveree in 1959 when they acquired the lease of this attractively situated ground on the north bank of the River Thames. The first couple of years were spent using the old stables as changing rooms and this sufficed until 1962. How to get to the Beveree If you are driving from outside London then you should exit the M25 at the M3 Junction and head towards Central London. Come off at Junction 1 (Sunbury) and follow signs for A308 Kingston (third exit) and follow road past Kempton Park race course. After approximately 2 miles turn left into High Street, then immediately left into Station Road. The entrance to Beveree is in Beaver Close, which is 200 yards on the right and there is street parking further up the High Street. If you are coming by train you should come from Richmond (or Waterloo) to Hampton and then simply follow Station Road to the east to the ground which is less than a ten minute walk and passed a number of decent pubs. How to get a ticket for the Beveree Whilst the ground has a small capacity sell outs (up until the game with Wimbledon) have been unheard of. However, if the club do make it into the Blue Square Premier then a number of games (Luton Town, Oxford United, Woking and York City to name but a few) will sell out. Tickets can currently be bought on the phone by calling 020 8941 2838. Ticket prices for the 2008/09 season were £10 for Adults and £5 for Concessions. Our last visit – October 2012 “Nice Beaver”…. “Thanks – I just had it stuffed.” Whenever I hear the name Hampton & Richmond I recall that classic line from Naked Gun. As I found out recently, few of my work colleagues have ever heard of Lt Frank Drebin, let alone Leslie Nielson (some had never heard of, or seen Back to the Future – what do they teach people in school these days???). Even fewer of them have heard of Hampton & Richmond Borough which again sent me into a mad rage as I remind them the importance of our Non League teams. Alas we have too many Chelsea/Arsenal bandwagon jumpers in the office. Too many people, who like most of society, has never been within 3 miles of a Premier League ground, have no idea what Non League football is all about. So, in a week where we celebrate Non-League Day for the third year I dragged a couple along to the aforementioned H&RB FC for the visit of the mighty Rooks. The Beveree (the home of a Beaver apparently – although I am not sure what happened to the “a”) is one of the classic Non League grounds. Surrounded by trees in one of the more affluent areas of commuter belt London, with a hodge-podge of stands and some of the nicest fans to boot. The club’s president is Alan Simpson, the legendary comedy writer who brought us Steptoe and Son (come on – even my 9-year-old has perfected her “you dirty old man” line). Last time I was here, watching Lewes win back in February 2011, Alan was sitting alone in his self-named stand, looking happy with the world. And why not. Fast forward 18 months and the two teams were due to meet again, albeit in a division below last time. Hampton’s relegation last season would be a bitter pill for a few months, tempered by the knowledge they would get to visit some decent new away grounds. In fact one of their loyal fans always makes a point of telling us when we play them how much he enjoys playing Lewes because “It’s what football’s all about – having a beer with your mates”. They had also acquired some old Rooks. Max Hustwick was now shoring up their back line and would get a rousing acknowledgement from the travelling fans, whilst centre-midfielder Gary Holloway wouldn’t. Less said about his “spell” at the Dripping Pan last season the better I think. The law of Football Sod meant that he would therefore play a blinder against us as well as scoring a last-minute winner. They had started the season well, and like the other two teams Lewes were playing on their week-long road trip, occupied one of the spots at the top of a very congested league table. They had had a bit of a wake-up call on Saturday when they had been well and truly spanked by Bury Town in the FA Cup, but as any manager who has just been knocked out of the cup will tell you, “It’s all about the league anyway”. The transition between the Blue Square Bet South and Ryman Premier League on the field is negligible. The standard of football is very similar ASSUMING that the budget can be kept around the same. Which, of course is the big risk. If you are relegated, do you gamble on a swift return by trying to retain your playing squad, or do you cut your cloth accordingly. There is no co-incidence that the teams currently at the top almost certainly have been able to increase their budget on last season. Margate’s piggy bank was boosted in the back half of last season by the sale of leading Ryman League goalscorer Kwesi Appiah to Crystal Palace. With a play-off spot almost out of reach after the January transfer window deal, they look to have banked their money and invested wisely in a promotion push this season. Wealdstone of course had that fantastic run to the semi-finals of the FA Trophy which will have boosted their budget this season and of course, Hampton & Richmond were one of two relegated sides from the Blue Square Bet South (ironically the other, Thurrock, had been propping up the table). But back to tonight. I’d managed to persuade Bruce from the office to make his Rooks debut. Well, technically he was but actually his wife was having an Arts and Craft party at their house a goal kick away from the Beveree and he needed a safe house to stop him being mobbed by women high on Pritt Stick. Legside Lizzy is another local closet Rooks fan and had made the short journey down the A316. As usual we got a warm welcome from the Hampton fans when we entered Hammonds Bar. They love their football down here, but they love having a beer with mates even more. No real surprise in the Lewes starting XI with the only change from the defeat at Kingstonian the return of Carl Beckford in midfield. My bet for the evening had any three from the following starting with Lewes draw along with banker home wins for high-flying Forest Green (v Tamworth), Dartford (v Telford), Luton Town (v Braintree Town) and Woking (v Cambridge United). What could go wrong? Hampton & Richmond Borough 2 Lewes 1 – The Beveree – Tuesday 9th October 2012 Of course it was a late winner for the home side. Of course it was Gary Holloway who set it up and of course high-flying, odds on Forest Green Rovers, Dartford and Luton Town all lost at home meaning it was a miserable journey home not only for me but for the dozen or so Lewes fans who had made the long journey from East Sussex. The first half was a decent spectacle. Both sides packed the midfield but there was enough pace and controlled passing that the minutes flew by. The home side took the lead was a stunning strike from Joe Turner who met a cross field ball on the half-volley from the edge of the box into the back of Thorp’s net. There is no shame in conceding a goal like that in any game. The Rooks head’s didn’t drop and just a few minutes later. A long ball up to Ben Godfrey was headed away by Hustwick but it fell to Anthony Thomas who was running in from distance and struck the ball over the keeper’s head. Not quite as good as Turner’s strike but still up there with the best. The second half saw Hampton gain the upper hand, especially in midfield where too many Lewes passes didn’t find their men. Thorp made a couple of excellent saves, and the home side hit the bar before Holloway had the last laugh against a team he probably felt “owed him”. Fifteen minutes to go and he floated in a free-kick that landed at the feet of Joel Ledgister’s feet who was able to turn and smash the ball home. Of course, Holloway had the referee to thank for the fact he was on the pitch at all at this stage after an off-the-ball incident with Jack Walder was followed by a very high and very late challenge on Brinkhurst in the first half. Ben Godfrey almost equalised for the Rooks in the dying seconds when his header bounced off the top of the bar, but Lizzy summed it up on the final whistle. “ENOUGH NOW” she shouted, causing a few of the players to look around at her. Of course, she was referring to the constant peeling of the church bells, right? If Lt Frank Drebin would have been here tonight he would have surely said, “Nice Beveree, shame we were stuffed…again”.. February 2011 – Hampton & Richmond 1 Lewes 2 Valentines Day. The most overhyped commercialised day in our calendar. The pressure we all feel to try and go one better each year to prove our love. As the years roll on, and our relationships mature, why do you need one day to try and prove your love. I do it everyday with CMF by picking up my socks off the floor, or occasionally boiling the kettle so that she can make me a cup of tea. Little things like that show that I still love her. It wasn’t always so romantic. Once I flew her to Monaco just for lunch, swooping in and out of the principality by helicopter from Nice airport. I am sure she would have rather had a box of Milk Tray. But what a modern girl really wants is a trip to football on Valentines Day right? The magic of the game under lights, the smell of liniment, burgers and horse shit and the roar of the crowd as they call the opposing keeper a c*nt for daring to delay a goal kick by a second. And what a choice you had this year too! The Sloane Square and Belgravia set no doubt headed down the Kings Road, or over Putney Bridge for the West London derby between Fulham and Chelsea, ultimately enjoying the view of the Thames at night more than the game on offer. But the real action for those wanting to be romantic was in the Blue Square North and South. Take your pick from a visit to Chelmsford, Eastleigh, Worcester or even Hinckley. If that is not enough to prove your love then I do not know what is. At full time it appeared to be a mixed bag of success. Chelmsford City’s crowd of 697 for their game with Boreham Wood was slightly down on average but actually up by 12% on their game the previous Monday, whilst Eastleigh’s Cupid themed event at home to St Albans City saw crowds down by 50% on a normal league game. In the Blue Square North Worcester City’s crowd was down by 30% on normal, but around the same for their previous Monday night game last month, and Hinckley United, well I haven’t got a clue as I cannot find the basics like a website to check from. So what does that tell us? People from Hampshire are more romantic than those in Essex or Worcestershire and thus stayed at home or, dare I say it, went out for a meal rather than go to the game? Or is it simply that people cannot be arsed to go to midweek games? Puma came up with their advertising campaign two years ago when Valentines Day clashed with a Saturday. Well we were due to put the theory to the test in some part as Lewes were due to travel to Hampton & Richmond Borough 24 hours later, known as Realisation of Disappointment Day. After the Rooks fantastic win at Maidenhead United on Saturday, the momentum was back in their path, especially as relegation rivals St Albans City and Boreham Wood had suffered St Valentines Day massacres at the hands of Eastleigh and Chelmsford City respectively. In fact the Rooks were now unbeaten in February, showing some nice touches as well as some steel in the team. Tim O’Shea, the Lewes manager had wheeled and dealed since taking over in October, trying to find the balance that would keep them in the division. With time running out it appeared he had turned a corner, but with Hampton & Richmond just one place above The Rooks it was sure to be a test. We love going to The Beveree, home of Hampton & Richmond Borough. It is one of our favourite Non League grounds, frequented by some of the best fans. They are also managed by West Ham legend Alan Devonshire who is always around for a quick word about the good old days post match. One of Lewes’s finest performances in previous years had been at the Beveree in April 2010 when they pulled the rabbit out of the hat and stayed up on the last day of the season with a 2-1 win (report here). There was a keen interest in this one from the neutral support. In fact it appeared that there would be more guest appearances from the blogging community than from the Lewes fans themselves, with Leg Spin and Googly expert Lizzy Ammon, Scott Johnstone from the excellent The Footy Blog Netand even Damon from The Real FA Cup promised to make an appearance. It’s Tuesday, it’s 5.35pm, it’s time for FOOTBALL! I had driven into work, paying £10 for the privilege to drive through the congestion zone for 30 yards so I would be travelling in style to TW12. Tense, nervous? You could say that….but that is the romance of football. Who needs one day of the year to show your feelings to the one you love when Non League football is happening all around. After all we all love football, right? Hampton & Richmond Borough 1 Lewes 2 – The Beveree – Tuesday 15th February 2011 They say the best things in life are free, but I would argue otherwise. Because last night the best thing you could have done was spend £18.50 in TW12 last night. For that you would have got entry into the Beveree, a programme, hot dog and chips (with onions of course) and a beer. Oh and a goal that rivalled Wayne Rooney’s for brilliance, but was far far more important that just a winner in a derby match. After a reminder of why I don’t drive into London in the rush hour anymore (11 miles in 75 minutes and too many close shaves with suicidal cyclists) I reached the leafy suburb of Hampton. Is there anywhere more English (apart fromWorcester) than Hampton? You could almost imagine Colin Firth walking down Church Road practising his lines for the Kings Speech and bumping into Dame Vera Lynn buying 20 Capstones at the newsagents. However, on a cold and wet February night it didn’t fill me with the spirit of St George. But the Lewes faithful were here in force. Count them 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 – a full house of the Lewes 6, The Rooks 125, owners of the club were in attendance. This was going to be some night if they had all hoped on the bus and travelled up from Sussex by the Sea. And even Chairman Ibbo had a smile on his face in the bar before the game. After welcoming Lizzy (minus her hat this time) and Scott over the border (meaning Scotland in this case and not someone from the borough of Hounslow) it was time to take our place in front of the Alan Simpson Stand. To add authenticity to the occasion Alan himself wandered past just before kick off and wished us a good evening. A true gent, and for those who do not know who Alan Simpson is, well shame on you (but you can check out his impressive history in television here). No sooner had Alan taken his season in his own stand than Lewes were one up. Quite how is a mystery to most of us as we were having a bit of a chat about what you would want named after yourself (A betting shop for Dave, although Cynical Betting may not take off). Neither did ace photographer James Boyes who was eyeing up a WAG no doubt in the main stand. Apparently what happened was that a clearance was scuffed and it appeared to hit/was hit by Lyle Taylor, on loan from AFC Bournemouth and fly into the net. The picture below sort of tells a story, but in all honesty few amongst the Lewes faithful expected such a start. You cannot comprehend the difference a few weeks has had to Lewes. When we last saw them at home to Staines in late January they appeared light in midfield, lacking someone to get the ball wide and no one really up front. Fast forward three weeks and the team have drawn two and one won before tonight, and importantly all against relegation rivals. Credit must go to ToSH and Neil Smith for bringing in the right players. Obviously, some like the impressive Lyle Taylor are only on loan, but they have given the team some confidence and it was obvious from the first half that a few players were upping their game. David Wheeler for instance. Sorry, OUR David Wheeler (as we sponsor him) was in the thick of things, putting himself about like we have rarely seen him do before and being on the receiving end of a few “choice” tackles which of course somehow he ended up getting a yellow card for. Don’t get me started on the officials. I thought I got my rant about ineptitude out of my system after Sutton United’s game on Saturday but here again was a team of men in black watching a different game to us all. Half time and a chance to grab our breath. It wasn’t a great game, with the pitch certainly causing some issues for both teams but hey, we were 1-0 up! And that lead lasted all of 3 minutes into the second half. Just as I left the warm comfy womb (aka the bar to us grown men) I saw the ball hit the back of the Lewes net when Barrie Matthews strike beat Winterton from the edge of the box. In fact Winterton’s task of picking the ball out of the net was one of the first things he had had to do all night. We had a fight on our hands and the game bubbled under for the rest of the half, one tackle away from a mass brawl at times. However, it was Lewes who seemed to have the energy and after Hampton had again illegally stopped a Lewes assault on goal. After a yellow card was issued the ball was played deep into the Hampton box by Rory Hill. Gary Noel tried an overhead kick that hit a defender and the ball flew out of the area until Grant Hall jumped and executed the perfect overhead kick. The ball flew into the corner and to say the place went wild was an understatement. Players, substitutes and the manager ran onto the pitch to jump on Hall. The referee simply didn’t know what to do. But we did. We cheered, clapped, screamed and basically let out 6 months worth of emotion. The last few minutes were of course spent camped in the Lewes penalty area but the team held on, and when the final whistle sounded it wasn’t met with relief as it was 10 months ago when we stood in the very same spot, but in triumph. This was another step in the direction of survival. Eight points from four games against relegation rivals, three of which had been played away from the Pan marked the best run for the club of the season. Doom clouds hang over the Hampton fans in Hammonds Bar afterwards as their winless streak in the league stretched back to October. But it was the Rooks who were flying high. Where there is hope there is belief. For more pictures of the epic night click here to view our Flickr feed. Our last visit – April 2010 – Hampton & Richmond Borough 1 Lewes 2 Without wanting to disrespect any good or bad team but leagues where all the promotion and relegation places are decided before the final day of the season are crap. There is nothing better than having all permutations being played out in the fans head as games progress across the land. Now Saturday 24th April was important for both teams in my life. West Ham, after their embarrassing capitulation at Anfield and Wigan’s remarkable win at home to Arsenal were due to meet in a huge game at Upton Park where a win would almost guarantee the Hammer’s safety. But that wasn’t where TBIR were heading. Our destination was TW12 – Hampton for the last day in the Blue Square South. Sure, Newport County had been promoted five weeks ago, and two play off places and two relegation places had been decided, but that left six teams who were either fighting for a play off place and the final relegation spot. Our focus would be on the relegation place, with Lewes having taken seven points from their last twelve in the “safe spot” but needing to ensure they bettered Worcester City’s result at home to Eastleigh. On the hottest day of the year we headed down to the Beveree, one of our top three non-league grounds in England (Lewes’s Dripping Plan and St Albans City’s Clarence Road grounds are the other two) and met up with the EFW team. We were here almosta year ago for the Beavers game against AFC Wimbledon and always have a soft spot for them. The jinx and japes, highs and lows can be found over at EFW for this one was we had our stopwatch, calculator and highlighter pens at the ready as the final games kicked off. 3.01pm – Hampton & Richmond 0 Lewes 0 – Rod Gradwell almost gets Lewes off to a flying start with a low shot that Hampton’s keeper almost spilled. 3.03pm – Worcester City 0 Eastleigh 1 –A huge roar goes up in the Alan Simpson Stand as rumours of an early Eastleigh penalty are confirmed and Worcester City are behind, meaning Lewes’s result would be irrelevant and they would stay up. 3.04pm – Woking 1 Weymouth 0 – Not really a surprise coming against the league’s worst team but very important in the Play off scheme of things – a win for Woking and fingers crossed that champions Newport win away at Braintree would be The Cards in the play offs. News also filters through that Wigan have scored at Upton Park. 3.07pm – Braintree Town 0 Newport County 1 – Huge cheers (probably) down the M3 in Woking and in Bath as Collins puts the champions ahead. 3.08pm – Worcester City 1 Eastleigh 1 – Groans from the Lewes fans as Worcester equalise from a penalty. Still as we stand it would be Lewes staying up. Lewes themselves go close as the impressive Gradwell poked a close range effort just wide. 3.12pm – Woking 2 Weymouth 0 and Braintree Town 0 Newport County 2 – Looking good for Woking and Bath as Braintree look likely to fall out of the play off spots at the last minute. 3.20pm – Havant & Waterlooville 0 Chelmsford City 1 – The prolific Warren McBean puts play off assured Chelmsford City in the lead and severely dent the Hawks play off aspirations. 3.25pm – Hampton & Richmond 0 Lewes 0 – Not much going on at the Beveree apart from another pint of spitfire going down. Real end of season feel – it’s almost as if Lewes know irrespective of the result they will be staying up – as if that would happen. 3.34pm – Havant & Waterlooville 0 Chelmsford City 2 – Not a good afternoon so far for Havant as Pearce’s own goal all but kills their play off hopes. A jubilant Deaks tells me Ilan has equalised at Upton Park. 3.43pm – Havant & Waterlooville 1 Chelmsford City 2 and Worcester City 2 Eastleigh 1 – Vital goals all round as Havant bring themselves back into contention and Worcester take the lead. As we stand, Worcester would stay up and Lewes would be relegated. Lewes respond with a drinks break at the Beveree – perfect excuse for us to go to the bar and see Kovac head West Ham in the lead at Upton Park. Half Time – Good news at Upton Park, not so here so we head off to the boardroom for a cup of tea served by the lovely Mrs Devonshire. As we stand it will be Woking and Bath in the play offs and Lewes going down. Time to deliver your finest ever half time speech Ibbo! 4.01pm – Hampton & Richmond 0 Lewes 1 – GOAL! – And Lewes’s arguably two most effective outfield players combine to give the visitors the lead. Gradwell makes some great progress into the area and tees up Joe Keehan who slots in his 19th goal of the season. We are Staying UP! 4.04pm – Hampton & Richmond 0 Lewes 2 -GOAL! – Double joy for the hundred or so Lewes fans as Gradwell capitalises on a loose backpass, touches the ball past the Hampton keeper and taps it into an empty night. Groans can be heard from Worcester for here. My joy is tempered slightly as Wigan equalise at Upton Park. 4.09pm – Havant & Waterlooville 3 Chelmsford City 2 – What a start to the second half for the hawks. All they need now is for another goal and hope St Albans can score at Bath City. 4.11pm – Braintree Town 1 Newport County 2 – Braintree give themselves hope as Quinton scores from the spot. Alan Partridge comedian side-kick Patrick Marber (Bald Brummies!) is spotted in the away crowd with his Lewes shirt on. 4.22pm – Hampton & Richmond 1 Lewes 2 – Squeeky bum time here as Tarpey squeezes a shot in and Rikki Banks’s first real job of the afternoon is getting the ball out of the net. A very nervous 22 minutes left. 4.31pm – Worcester City 3 Eastleigh 1 -Worcester put the game to bed at St Georges Lane and their attention now turns to events in TW12. 4.33pm – Havant & Waterlooville 4 Chelmsford City 2 and Woking 3 Weymouth 0 – Game over for Woking essentially as they will finish in the play offs. Havant’s efforts at coming back from 2-0 down will all be in vein if Bath get at least a point. Scott Parker powers West Ham into the lead for the first time in the day at Upton Park, and with Hull losing West Ham will be all but safe with two games to go. 4.40pm – Worcester City 4 Eastleigh 1 – Proceedings have almost halted now at Hampton as both teams seem to be playing for an Austria v Germany away win. Worcester could score 20 put it seems to be irrelevant. 4.45pm – Havant & Waterlooville 5 Chelmsford City 2 and Woking 4 Weymouth 0 – It’s all over for Havant as Bath City’s draw is confirmed. Braintree also miss out in the harshest way having been in the play offs for almost the whole season. Elsewhere a bizarre game at Ship Lane, Thurrock sees Bromley win 6-3. 4.47pm – FINAL SCORE – Hampton & Richmond Borough 1 Lewes 2– It’s all over. The emotions of the season all pour out on the pitch as Lewes are staying up. Ibbo jumps into the crowd (well if he could get his leg over) and the fans celebrate an achievement that a month ago was very very unlikely. Hard luck on Worcester who pulled it out of the bag on the last day, but everyone we spoke to after the game said the same thing that it was unlikely they would be relegated anyway (in fact there are still rumours that Weston-Super-Mare in 2nd from bottom may stay up too). West Ham win and so I am a very happy bunny. After dropping off Lolly back at CMF taxi’s it was time for some boardroom hob-nobbing. The ref, who said himself what an enjoyable afternoon he had had for some reason felt Cynical looked official and gave him the match report to file. Penalty for not filing was deemed to be a ban from the Europa League for three seasons! So as a final point you may ask why a die hard West Ham fan had chosen a game played in front of 539 in south west London instead of 35,000 at Upton Park. Well thirty minutes after the game I would still be trudging back to my car in east London, hoping it wasn’t my turn for the weekly car break in, whilst here I was having a beer with the two managers, sharing stories about their season and seeing the way they went about their business. We are staying up, I said we are staying up! More pictures from the day can be seen from our Flikr stream here. Our last visit – Hampton & Richmond Borough 1 AFC Wimbledon 1 – 19th April 2009 At the start of the 2008/09 season few people who followed football at the Conference level would have thought that the destination of the championship would come down to the final two weeks of the season. AFC Wimbledon were always seen as the team to beat this year. Their remarkable rise up through the non-league pyramid is not going to be discussed here, as thousands of words have already been written about them and I cannot do the progress of the club justice. Their support has been immense and wherever they have travelled to this season they have taken literally thousands of fans with them. Back in early February they seemed to have the league sewn up, with a healthy lead but then came the wobbles. At the same time the form of a couple of other teams started to improve and all of a sudden we had a championship race on our hands. Two weeks ago Welling United, my local team , went to Wimbledon’s (well Kingstonians) ground and beat them 1-0. Hampton & Richmond Borough took full advantage and pulled within three points with a game in hand. That game was a week later, away at Chelmsford City, themselves in the play off places. Hampton lost 3-2 and thus missed a chance to go level at the top. Since then they have matched each other result for result meaning that with two games to go only three points separated the two sides. AFC Wimbledon’s goal difference is far superior but it doesn’t escape the fact that the meeting of these two teams is the game of the season in the Blue Square South. Hampton & Richmond Borough Football Club to give them their full name are managed by a legend. Alan Devonshire, Devo to us West Ham fans may not be the same slim tricky winger that he was in the 1980 FA Cup Final but he sits up there with the likes of Sir Trevor, Julian Dicks and Billy Bonds as one of the best players ever to pull on the claret and blue of the Hammers. The team he played in between 1977 and 1987 was one of legend. Under John Lyall, West Ham rose from the old 2nd Division, winning the FA Cup versus Arsenal, and taking the legendary Liverpool team of Dalglish, Rush, Hansen and Avi Cohen to a replay in the League Cup final to within 90 minutes of winning the old First Division in 1986. Devonshire was one of the reasons for the sustained success of the club. Think of a modern day Cristiano Ronaldo, without the diving and hair gel, and you will get a picture of the influence Devo had on the Hammers. His speciality was to run at pace at full backs into the penalty area so their only choice was to bring him down. With such a prolific penalty king in the team as Ray Stewart (averaging over a dozen goals from full back a season and with a penalty success record in the high 90%’s) West Ham’s lethal weapon produced result after result. After a period managing Maidenhead United, Devonshire arrived in South West London in the summer of 2003 with the club recently renamed from Hampton FC and sitting in the Ryman’s First Division. In his first season Devonshire steered the club to promotion, beating Leatherhead on the last day of the season. The next few years were supposed to be a period of consolidation for the club but Devonshire was convinced the team could continue its progress up the pyramid. They finished runners up in the play offs in 2006 and the following year they fought a fierce battle with Bromley before a victory in April 2007 against Slough Town ensured the title went to Devonshire’s team. In their first season in the Blue Square South the club exceeded all expectations in reaching the Play Off’s after finishing in 3rd place. Unfortunately, Eastbourne Borough beat them in the final and they had to be content with a further season at this level – but for how much longer? This season started with a high profile friendly with West Ham United in front of over 3,000 fans and has continued with some excellent results, none more so than the team’s form at home. But with just one home game left against their biggest rivals the team required one final bit of Devonshire magic to rise to the next level. So after my morning flight back from Munich I headed down to the former home of Henry VIII for what was to be the biggest clash in the area since Cardinal Wolseley told Henry that “a bit on the side was simply not on”. The sun was shining brightly when I landed at lunchtime at Stansted, and at 2pm I found a parking space close to Hampton station and walked through the Wimbledon crowds to the ground. Picking up my press pass I saw that I was amongst company with journalists attending from virtually every major newspaper hoping to catch first hand AFC’s promotion party. It was obvious that 75% of the crowd were Dons fans. At the far end of the stadium the shallow terrace was full some 50 minutes before kick off, and the home end was swelled with away fans as well. The lowest gate of the season at the Beveree had been just 78 fans for a county cup game, and the crowd was barely above 500 for their last league game but it was obvious that this was their cup final. The first bit of chaos was caused by the referee. It was announced that there would be a minute’s silence for a local fan who died recently as well as in memory for those who died at Hillsborough some twenty years previously. Both sets of players lined up around the centre circle and the referee blew his whistle. The crowd thought this was to signify the start of the silence, but it was in fact to call the captains together for the toss. That over with he blew his whistle again to start the silence, only for the crowd to break into applause thinking that was the end of it. Confused he blew again and half of the crowd realised what had happened but it was too late and the moment had passed, so the game commenced. Within thirty seconds AFC should have taken the lead. A break down the left hand side saw the ball go to the far post but AFC’s Dwane Lee struck his shot against the post. Both teams were committed to the extreme and in a frenetic first period five players needed treatment, including the Wimbledon goalkeeper who was caught late by Hampton’s Ian Hodges which resulted in the first yellow card of the game. Chances were few and far between and I spent my time for the main part behind the Hampton goal, listening to the home fans urge their team on. On the thirty minute mark I moved to the main stand where I had a press seat. Behind me sat a man who could only be described by the term “blinkered”. He was with his wife/girlfriend who had absolutely no interest in the game and spent most of her time focusing on anything apart from the game. Mr Blinkered would get up and shout abuse at any Hampton player when in range, referring to any of them as “dirty, dirty Hampton”. I have no problem with passionate support of a team but he could see absolutely no wrong in the way AFC were playing. I suppose after watching so many games as a neutral I have become conditioned to seeing the good and bad in every team, including my own, when I watch them. He wasn’t alone in his abuse of his hosts (he was sitting in the Hampton seats after all) and some of the comments were not only out of order but distasteful in a stand full of children and guests. Half time entertainment is hit and miss at the lower league level but here it was first class – not that it was designed to be. One of the Wimbledon fans climbed up on the fence behind the goal to try and tie their huge flag up. He got one side up before being spotted by the stewards who pounced in numbers and all of a sudden a major incident with police arriving ensued. After a good ten minutes of negotiating where the fan obviously promised he wouldn’t climb up again, one of his mates jumped up on the other side of the fence and the flag was flying much to the bemusement of the stewards who were unaware what had happened behind their back. A goal less first half suited Wimbledon more who knew that a point would almost certainly give them the title and promotion to the Blue Square Conference. However, Devonshire had obviously seen a weakness in the AFC back line and his team started playing the ball long to the wings, winning possession and then launching long throw ins into the box. This almost lead to the first goal just after half time but a sharp save from the Wimbledon keeper Pullen stopped Hampton taking the lead. However the goal was going to come and on 67 minutes it finally arrived as some sloppy marking allowed Hampton’s midfielder Francis Quarm the freedom of the penalty area before his low shot beat the keeper. The goal was met with as much abuse from the Wimbledon fans as it was with cheers from the home fans. Mr Blinkeredlead another chant of “dirty, dirty Hampton” but by now nobody was listening. Wimbledon’s manager Terry Brown made some changes to energise his team and Jon Main came close on 70 minutes with a great shot from outside the box. Two minutes later it was the turn of Elliott Godfrey to come close as his shot took a wicked deflection but was well saved by Hampton’s Lovett. The keeper was the hero again when he made a point blank save in the seventy ninth minute from a header in the six yard box. But with the ninety minutes almost up AFC launched another break down the left. Hampton’s centre back John Scarborough raced over to clear but collided with full back Fernandes in a sickening challenge which was obvious to the crowd and Hampton players that he was seriously hurt. The ball had gone out for a throw in and was thus dead, but the referee inexplicably allowed Wimbledon to take the throw in whilst two defenders lay on the floor. The ball was pinged into the box and Jon Main rose unmarked (as Scarborough was his marker) to head home. Queue the wild celebrations all around the pitch and stands. Mr Blinkered went wild, pushing his wife/girlfriend out of the way and jumping into an embrace with a large bloke whose trousers fell down. Good to see him get his priorities right. The Hampton players went mad, harranging the referee to try and find out why he failed to stop the game. Sitting just in front of me was the referee’s assessor who shook his head in disbelief and started writing copious notes. The game was held up for over five minutes and eventually Scarborough left on a stretcher with a huge gash in his thigh which had been plastered over as much as the physio could muster. Devonshire was very concerned and took off around the pitch to see if he could find out how his player was. The incident had taken the wind out of the Hampton sail, and with the seven minutes of injury time up the referee blew his whistle and off went Mr Blinkered and his trouserless friend onto the pitch along with a thousand or so Wimbledon fans as they celebrated almost certain promotion. Yes – they have still won nothing. Technically a heavy (7/8 goals) defeat next week and a win by the same margin for Hampton at Maidenhead would see them claim the title (it is actually still possible for Eastleigh in 3rd to win it but they would have to catch up 27 goals in one game). However, there is no doubt that a club of their size and support should be playing in a higher league. Interestingly enough you can draw parallels with the Italian league and the collapse of Fiorentina back in the late 1990’s and Napoli more recently. The Italian FA decided to by pass a few leagues for the newly formed Fiorentina and Napoli sides, promoting them for “Sporting Reasons”. Hard to see that ever happening here but you can be sure that a club with such momentum behind them will not settle for a place in the Conference for long. After half an hour I caught up with Devonshire. He had calmed down, but was still visibly upset about the decision. – “So Alan, thirty minutes after the final whistle – how do you feel?” – “Angry. Angry that one of my boys was badly hurt, the ball was dead but the referee allowed play to go on” – “Where do you go from here? Have you had an explanation from Mr Mason (the ref)?” – “No – he refuses to talk to me about the decision” – “So it looks like the Play Offs for Hampton this season. Is that disappointing having come so close?” – “We had a plan for this season, and we reached the final last season. Obviously we could see the chance of the title but I am proud of my players. This is a smashing little club and I love it here. We will continue to fight and try and move up” – “As a West Ham fan for all of my life, how did the pressure of the game today compare to the pressure before the 1980 Cup Final against Arsenal for instance? I remember that game as a 10 year old” – “Blimey – that makes me feel old (a smile from Devo at this point) but its different types of pressure. As a manager I know I can only do so much and once that whistle sounds its up to the players.” – “West Ham drew by the way – do you still look out for their results?” – “They drew? Who scored? (Diego Tristan) Good result. They were my one major club so I have a real soft spot for them obviously” – “Thanks for your time Alan – it’s been a pleasure.” – “Thank you for coming today and please come back again next season” So there we have it – AFC Wimbledon are all but up but I can see next season will be a struggle for them unless they invest in the squad. Their huge support was passionate but a small number didn’t behave in a way that I would have expected based on the spirit of the club. I was made awre later about the history between the two teams and this may explain a few things. However, no team’s support is perfect and I wish them well in the Conference next season. Whereas Hampton just confirmed what I already knew – a nice club run by nice people in a nice setting. I know who I will be supporting for the final promotion place in the play offs.