“I don’t need to tell you this is a massive game for the club and whilst it’s only three points available, for the committee and the supporters this is one of the biggest games of the season.” Those were the words of Phoenix Sports Manager Paul Bryon in his programmes notes ahead of their big derby clash with local rivals VCD Athletic on Easter Monday.
The Bexleyheath based club are currently enjoying life playing at the highest level they have reached to date, the Isthmian League Division One South which is step 8 in the English Football Pyramid system. Their visitors to Mayplace Road East, also known as the Phoenix Sports Ground were VCD Athletic, themselves based just 0.1 mile down the road at Oakwood in Crayford, Kent. The only local derby I can think that is as close as this in the UK is Dundee United v Dundee which I do believe have stadiums that share the same road!
In 2013/14 the former works club from the Vickers Armaments Factory based in Crayford were crowned Isthmian North Division One Champions and that meant a chance to have a stab at their first ever season playing in the Premier Division of the Isthmian League structure. This was quite some achievement for a club that has spent all of its history until then in the Kent League and its various divisions. Unfortunately, life in the Isthmian Premier Division proved a tough challenge and only a six-game winning run at the end of 2014/15 campaign meant another chance to mix it with bigger and better-supported clubs, the likes of Dulwich Hamlet, Bognor Regis Town and Tonbridge Angels to name just a few playing at that level that season. The following campaign, 2015/16, was again another tough one on the pitch and this time their luck run out as they ended the season suffering relegation back to the Isthmian Division One North. After a season back playing in the North Division, a restructure of the Isthmian League set up in the summer of 2017 placed VCD in Division One South, which is where their neighbours Phoenix are playing their football this season after two years in the North Division themselves.
Phoenix Sports v VCD Athletic- image from Daniel Storey
Football itself has been played in and around the Bexleyheath and Crayford area as far back as the early 20th Century with a club playing in the Kent League under the name of Bexleyheath Labour for just one season in 1919/20. The Labour prefix was dropped in favour of Town in 1920, and eight years later Bexleyheath Town won their first and only Kent League Championship at the end of the 1928/29 season. They then went on to change their name to Bexleyheath and Welling in 1931 but league success eluded them after that triumph in 1929.
After the Second World War Bexleyheath and Welling didn’t re-join the Kent League until 1951, and they then decided to switch over to the more stronger Southern League in 1959. Another name change to Bexley United in 1963 was followed by brief spell playing in a very strong Southern League Premier Division from 1963 to 1965. This was to be the pinnacle of their existence at that level, and sadly Bexley United were to eventually fold in 1975 due to financial troubles whilst playing their football in the Southern League Division One South.
The 1960’s also saw the birth of Welling United who would eventually go on to play in the very top level of the Non-League Football, the Conference, whilst also becoming the biggest and better supported semi-professional club in the borough of Bexley. Nevertheless, that didn’t stop the likes of Phoenix(Formed 1935) and VCD (Formed 1916) building up their infrastructure and support bases in their formative years whilst achieving their own successes on the playing front at a more local level.
Between the pair of them, Phoenix and VCD have won their fair share of local honours with the Vickers having won Kent Senior Trophy four times(2005/2006/2008 & 2009), the Kent Premier League(Now the Southern Counties East League) twice(2009 & 2013) as well as one Kent County League Championship(1997). Meanwhile, up the road at Phoenix, they can also boast a Southern Counties East League title triumph(2015) as well as a Kent Invicta League Championship(2013) and three Kent County League Championships. Their first of those being the Division One West title in 1999/2000 and then the Division 2 West title in 2004/05 before lifting the Division 1 West title again in 2007/2008 this time achieving promotion as a result. Both clubs have also won a number of local cup competitions in their history too.
Phoenix Sports v VCD Athletic- image 2 from Daniel Storey
However, it was the here and now that counted on Easter Monday as the two teams went head to head for a third time in the 2017/18 season with local bragging rights up to for grabs.
02/04/2018 - Bostik Isthmian League Division 1 South - Phoenix Sports 0 v 3 VCD Athletic - Att: 186
As always with any local derby at any level, history, reputation and current league positions go out the window. Before kick-off VCD Athletic were nine places and 17 points behind their rivals in the league whilst Phoenix went into the game looking for a hat-trick of wins against their rivals having dumped them out of the Kent Senior Cup on penalties back in August and followed that up with a 1-0 win at their Oakwood home on New Years Day.
Unfortunately for Phoenix, the playoffs look just out of reach this season with just five games left to play(including this match)and a gap of 12 points to make up to the play-off places. However, a run of three wins and a draw from their last four games has meant the Bexleyheath club are ending their season on a high. Another win against their rivals would keep the momentum going.
Phoenix Sports v VCD Athletic- image 3 from Daniel Storey
After the beast from the east had caused havoc with non-league fixture programme up and down the county at the start of March, the end of March and the start of April brought with it yet more bad weather including plenty of wind and rain which again had decimated large parts of the Non-League fixture calendar over Easter. Thankfully the ground staff at the Phoenix Sports Ground had done a sterling job before kick off and only the centre circle was suffering the worse of the weather with sand covering the majority of it.
The game kicked off with the rain still coming down hard but after ten minutes of action the weather had improved but for the home side, they were probably wishing the game had fallen foul of the weather after failing two goals behind early on. The first came after just five minutes as Alfie Cue scored the first of his two goals with a neat finish into the bottom corner. It was a great start for the visitors but it got even better in the 10th minute when Alfie Cue again struck this time from just outside the box to stun the home support into near silence as he raced away to the corner flag to celebrate with his delighted teammates.
It had been an awful start to the derby for Phoenix and they now had a mountain to climb in an effort to get anything from the match. VCD were certainly worthy of their two-goal head start and constantly looked dangerous, especially down both flanks as they came forward in their numbers in the first half. As the half worn on Phoenix started to create their own chances but stout defending by the visitors back four ensured they went into the halftime break still with their two-goal cushion.
By this point, the rain was falling heavily again with the majority of the near 200 crowd taking shelter in warmth and the dry of the clubhouse.
Phoenix Sports v VCD Athletic- image 4 from Daniel Storey
The rain again relented in the early part of the second half to the relief of those not wanting to watch the action under shelter. The second half was as feisty and competitive as the first half, and the referee and his assistants had a battle on their hands as both sides questioned the decisions which didn’t go in their favour or they just didn’t like. One such decision was a disallowed goal that VCD thought they had scored immediately after halftime. A cross into the box was touched home on the goal line by a VCD player but the linesman saw an offside much to the dismay and anger of the VCD players and officials. They needn’t had worried though as eventually, a third goal came in the 50th minute when good build-up play by VCD allowed Jeffery Gyamfi to turn in the box and get a shot away which wrong-footed the goalkeeper and eventually tricked its way over the goal line. It was a killer goal which all ended the match as a contest. All credit to Phoenix as they didn’t fold and kept their scoreline to just three as VCD threatened to run away with it at times.
The game never really threatened to boil over until the last few minutes when a VCD player went down under a challenge in the box only for the referee to wave away his penalty appeals. An exchange between the defender and the attacker lead to some unsavoury pushing and shoving between both players and a few teammates. Eventually, the referee restored calm and minutes later blew up for full time. The VCD players had their revenge for their previous two defeats to their neighbours whilst the Phoenix Sports management and players were left to pick the bones out of a game they never really got going in.
These two neighbours will lock horns again in 2018/19 with both clubs neither going up or down this season.
To read more from Daniel, head over to his website here.