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Non-league Football

Leatherhead FC

About Fetcham Grove
Leatherhead FCLeatherhead’s ground is a perfect non league venue – old rambling stands, a decent bar and hospitable fans.  The main stand is a small covered affair with an old tin roof, steeped in history.  Behind one goal is a covered terrace which sits on a hill.

The club has a decent bar with an area to watch the game from outside whilst having a beer.  You will also find the small shed club shop in this area.

How to get to Fetcham Grove
Leave the M25 at Junction 9. At the roundabout at the end of the slip road, take the 2nd exit signposted A246 Cobham.  At the next one roundabout, take the first exit. You will pass an Esso garage on the right and then a Shell garage on the left. Immediately after the Shell garage, there is a give way sign.  Take the outside lane and follow the road round to the right.

Leatherhead FCAs you go down the hill, switch to the left hand lane and follow the road round a sharp left turn. After a Pumping Station (left hand side) the road bears round to the right. Take the first turning left (before railway bridge) and the entrance to Leatherhead Football Club is approximately 50 metres on the left hand side.  For the car parks carry on down the road for a hundred yards and you can park free of charge in the Leisure Centre.

If you are coming by train, then the ground is a ten minute walk away.  Head out of station and head downhill.  Cross the main road (Randalls Way) and into Station Approach.  Follow this road, running parallel to the railway line.  At end of road turn left and then right into Waterway Road. When you reach the Waterworks roundabout you will see the entrance to the ground.

Admission to Fetcham Grove
Admission is £10 for Adults and £5 for Concessions.  Programmes can be bought on the gate for £2.

Our last visit – November 2014

Every Non-League team dreams of a run in the FA Cup. The chance to take on a Football (or even Premier) League side, the presence of national media around the club and the chance to bask in the limelight for a period of time. There will be few football fans outside of Exeter, and probably Runcorn, who won’t have enjoyed seeing Warrington Town humble Football League Two Exeter City live in the BBC last night. The media lapped it up. “Plucky little Warrington”, “Goal scored by plasterer Craig Robinson”, “part-timers” we’re all common phrases being bandied about as the game progressed.

Nobody can begrudge the club their payday. The win over Exeter was their third consecutive 1-0 home victory in the competition, along the way beating teams in a higher division in each case including Conference North pre-season favourites North Ferriby United. The game was a 2,500 sell out and with the money from the BBC to televise the game, the club will have received over £50,000 getting to this stage of the competition. But is the money always a blessing for Non-League clubs?

The big challenge Warrington face is to try to get some of those local fans back in two weeks time when they host Radcliffe Borough in the Evostik Premier League North match, and those league games beyond that. So far this season only around 150 come to Cantilever Park to watch games. A big cash injection is never a bad thing at this level but the challenge is to try and use it to encourage more fans to come back. Warrington’s challenge is three-fold.

Firstly, they have to compete every Saturday with fans heading along the M62 to either Liverpool or Manchester to watch the Reds or the Blues.  One of the positive factors that televised football has brought the game is when some of the Premier League games are moved to a Sunday or Monday night, the local Non-League teams can try to take advantage of those fans who still want to go to a 3pm Saturday kick off.  This is one of the reasons why some clubs offer discounted entry for season ticket holders at bigger clubs, although in truth if you can afford the £700 plus ticket at Old Trafford or Anfield you are hardly likely to grumble at paying the tenner to get in at Cantilever Park.

Secondly, they are located in an overcrowded area of Non-League clubs of similar sizes.  Within a twenty-minute drive there are over a dozen teams playing at the same level or just above Warrington.  It is rare that Non-League leopards change their spots and so they will be fighting a losing battle trying to win these fans hearts and minds.

Finally they have the biggest challenge.  Warrington is a Rugby League town, home of the The Wolves, one of the most successful modern era clubs who play in the 15,000 Halliwell Jones Stadium in the town.  They tend to be very different sets of fans despite the fact that there is only an overlap of the two respective seasons for a couple of months each year.

Unfortunately, it is not always the case that Non-League clubs who benefit from a great FA Cup run can translate that into ongoing success in the league.  The last headline club who did Non-League football proud in the FA Cup was Hastings United back in 2012/13.  They reached the third round, finally losing to Middlesbrough at The Riverside in front of 12,500 fans.  However, the cup run was to be the club’s undoing in the league as the fixture pile up caused by playing the FA Cup games and subsequent bad weather meant that they had to play 13 league games in just 28 days.  With the transfer window for Non-League clubs closed, and league officials who had enjoyed riding on the coat-tails of the club’s success now cocking a deaf ear, Hastings buckled under the sheer weight of pressure and were relegated.  Two seasons on and they have still not returned.

15718020616_e8fc8b7832_kForty years ago the Non-League team to hit the FA Cup headlines was Leatherhead FC who made it all the way to the Fourth Round, where they lost 3-2 to Leicester City at Filbert Street in front of the Match of the Day cameras.  Along the way they beat Colchester United and Brighton & Hove Albion, and were leading The Foxes 2-0.  Back then, when football wasn’t a 24 hours 7 day a week “in your face” event, the heroics of that Isthmian League side was headline stuff.

Today, Leatherhead are back in the same division as they were in 1974.  They enjoyed some more of the limelight in 1978 when they reached Wembley in the FA Trophy final, losing to Altrincham but since then they have floated around the Isthmian leagues without being able to climb any higher.  As with most of the cases of the “giant killers”, the revenue earned from the cup run didn’t lead to success on the field.  Twenty five years after their cup exploits the club came close to folding, only saved by the actions of a group of fans who once again proved that Fan Ownership is the only real sustainable model for Non-League clubs.

Talking of Fan Ownership, who were Leatherhead’s visitors today? None other than the mighty Rooks, who were on their best run of form so far this season, coming off the back of two consecutive wins.  We haven’t had a lot to shout about this season down at The Dripping Pan but things are changing.  A new formation, some inspirational experienced players coming back into the team and fans who were behind the management 100% meant that we arrived in the rain at The Tanners with strutting confidence.

Leatherhead 0 Lewes 1 – Fetcham Grove – Saturday 8th November 2014
We came, we saw and we got very very wet.  In front of the biggest away support so far this season the Rooks put on the kind of battling display that had been missing for so long in 2014.  A change to 3-5-2 prior to the Met Police game worked wonders at the Dripping Pan but here it appeared to be ineffective in the first half against a confident Leatherhead team who passed the ball around well.  The Tanners looked to stretch the game, trying to nullify the threat of Sam one and Sam two as our flying wing backs.  The home side hit the inside of the post after twenty minutes which seemed to shake the Rooks into life and from that moment they never looked back.

15740983815_b6036a75b4_kSome comedy rolling around on the floor by the Leatherhead players did the job of conning the referee, who wasn’t helped by inept performances by his assistants who couldn’t have been anymore unhelpful in letting the game flow.  Petty, niggly free-kicks sucked the life out of the game in the first half.  Perhaps I was just in a bad mood as I had dropped my chips on the floor.

15556169660_be58abd60f_oAs the second half started, so did the rain.  When it passed from torrential to monsoon setting, most of the 40-strong Lewes fans headed for the covered terrace, leaving the hardcore LLF on behind the goal.  Our dedication was rewarded on the hour mark when Sam 1 (Crabb) beat his man on the right, crossed to the penalty spot where Sam 2 (Cole) met the ball on the volley and gave Louis Wells absolutely no chance.

Lewes started to take control of the game and always looked the more dangerous side, although some superb defending from Rowe, Elphick and Banks ensured that the Rooks goal went unbreached for another game.  The final whistle was greeted with fist pumps, back slaps and even a hug or two.  In the grand scheme of things it was only 3 points, but for Lewes it was another step towards redemption.

Forty years is literally a lifetime in football.  Whilst both sets of fans looked on enviously at East Thurrock United’s result at Hartlepool United in the FA Cup, we knew that our time will come once again.  For now, it was all about the magic of the Isthmian League.  Cup football is so over rated anyway….

Our last visit – November 2011

A few weeks ago, Lewes visited FA Cup giant killers Harlow Town and came away with a shock of their own after the Ryman League One North side came from two goals down to win three-two in the FA Trophy. Today we were on the road again to another club whose exploits were inscribed on the fabric of the cup, Leatherhead FC.

Leatherhead FCThe year was 1975. The Tanners then of the Isthmian League had gone on a mazy run in the FA Cup and had beaten Bishops Stortford, Colchester United and Brighton & Hove Albion to set up a fourth round tie at home to 1st division Leicester City. In a move that today would be “banned”, the game was switched to Filbert Street on request of Leatherhead to maximise the revenue earning potential and over 32,000 fans and the Match of the Day cameras crammed in the ground to see the non league side take a two goal lead. Star of the show (and of the club) was a chap called Chris Kelly who liked to talk up not only the team’s abilities but those of his own and earned him the nickname, The Leatherhead Lip. Unfortunately fitness saw the 1st division side score three goals to take the tie but the Tanners held a place in many neutrals heart (A great article on their cup run can be found here).

Today they still ply their trade in the top level of the Isthmian league after promotion via the play offs last season under legendary manager Mick Sullivan. Sullivan didn’t take fools gladly but was a great non league character and we will be ever grateful for the signed shirt he donated to Lewes’s Rook Inn last season. This season the club started poorly, and ultimately Sullivan paid the price as he departed Fetcham Grove after just two points from their first nine games.

Leatherhead FCAfter Lewes’s last gasp defeat to East Thurrock United on Wednesday a win was more important than ever.  On Friday one phone call sent the club into crisis though.  On loan keeper Fabian Spiess had been injured in training with his club Notts County.  With no other keeper at the club the phone calls started.  It was looking like I was going to be dusting off the old Uhlsports and doing a John Burridge and sleeping with a ball, just to get ready until I got a call from Club Secretary Kev.  A deal had been done to bring back Rikki Banks from Eastbourne Borough for the month.  Banks was a hero in our survival season two years ago, and would be welcomed back again, starting with the trip to Leatherhead.

Also joining the squad was Harry Harding, previously with Reading and Bromley.  As with all new signings I try and get a bit of information.  On the gospel that is Wikipedia Harry was either a 65 year old American Political Scientist who wrote “Sino-American Relations, 1945-1955: A Joint Reassessment of a Critical Decade” or that he was the Canadian Minister of Government Services for Newfoundland and Labrador. Hmm, I think it was more likely to be @HarryHarding91 on Twitter come to think of it.

Leatherhead FCThis as a short trip for TBIR – 30 minutes around the M25 and down into Mole Valley.  I cannot see that word without recalling of Ever Decreasing Circles, the BBC Sitcom from the 80’s starring Richard Briers where he played an obsessive, compulsive chap living in middle England hell.  He worked for a fictious company called Mole Valley Valves.  As I parked at the ground a couple walked past with matching coats on – very Howard and Hilda.

Leatherhead’s Fetcham Grove ground is one of the finest in the south of England in terms of location.  Nestled next to the River Mole and surrounded by trees it is perfectly complimented by the autumnal colours, falling leaves and the ramshackle old stands of the Tanners.  If only all non league grounds had so much character.

Leatherhead FC

With this being a short hop and a skip for most Lewes fans, the turn out was high, including the veritable Rob K Read, the brains and brawn behind the world famous Lewes Membership scheme, forming a formidable Twitterati to report on the game.

Leatherhead 0 Lewes 1 – Fetcham Grove – Saturday 26th November 2011
With half a dozen fans poised with their fingers on the iPhone buttons to send news of the unfolding events to the world all we needed was something to report on.  Well we waited, and waited and waited.  On forty minutes the highpoint of the half occurred.  Young George, son of ClubSec Kev made a dash for freedom from his buggy and felt he could do better than any of the twenty outfield players, making it as far as the corner flag before being thwarted.

Leatherhead FCNeither team created much despite almost perfect playing conditions.  Lewes welcomed back Matt Somner in the middle of the park and he was joined by new signing Harding, with his “unusual” hair.  It would be interesting to see who will now monopolise the hairdryer before the game between him and Nanetti.

With only Booth up front and five in midfield it was clear on Steve King’s intentions – stop Leatherhead passing through the middle.  And it worked, although the Rooks created few chances themselves in the opening period that could trouble the Tanners keeper.

After a refreshment stop in the bar, and a  welcome pint of Harveys (the fans not the players), the second half started with more of the same. However, it took a number of changes from the bench to change the game.  Malcolm came on for Nanetti and with that Lewes became more positive. The corner count started mounting and with Albert Jarrett and Malcolm cutting in from the wings, the Leatherhead defence took to strong-arm tactics to stop them.

Leatherhead FCWith ten minutes to go Booth was scythed down on the edge of the area and Malcolm’s free kick could not have been more perfectly flighted into the top corner of the net.  Relief washed over the fans, players and management alike.  Whilst the team have sat in the play off spots for weeks, form has been disappointing and at this stage we would all take a win at whatever cost.

The final minutes saw some nerves defending from Lewes, which always looks worse from the far end, but in the end they held out.  It is all about the result, not the performance at this stage of the season (is that right, or is that pre-season?) and the win solidifies the Rooks place in the top five.

Next stop – East Grinstead United in the Sussex Senior Cup.  You can stick your Nou Camp, San Siro and Allianz Arena.  It’s the GAC Stadium for us on Tuesday and we couldn’t be more excited.


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