We try very hard on this website to keep politics and football apart. After all, the internal politics of the game is complex enough without bringing the country’s lawmakers into it; we’d rather focus on what happens on the field of play rather than on the tangled world off it. But it’s difficult to avoid a mention of politics when visiting Egham Town FC and their Runnymede Stadium, given that Runnymede itself is often described as the birthplace of English democracy.
Around two miles on foot from the home of our Bostik South Central new boys is the meadow by the River Thames where King John sealed the Magna Carta. For those of you who might like a history lesson, this guaranteed rights and freedoms to a large band of very, very rich men who were effectively holding a loaded gun- well, a pointy stick- to the King’s head. The King- it might help here if you picture him as the cowardly lion from Disney’s film Robin Hood- had effectively been stretching the patience of those who bankrolled him and vied for his favour and, fed up, they’d decided to make him behave by using force. It didn’t really work, and, to cut a long story short, King John later lost his wallet on the way to an away fixture at Dereham Town before comfort eating himself to death on Del Monte peaches. Actually, that was more of a Horrible History lesson, but to cut that long story even shorter it wasn’t democracy as we know it, as it didn’t really have any interest in the views of ninety-nine percent of the people of the country, only in those who controlled the land, the wealth and the power.
We’ve come a long way in eight hundred years, haven’t we?
Anyway, enough of such nonsense. The Runnymede Stadium is light years away from the hurly-burly of Parliament, particularly given that it is full of reasonable, well behaved people who aren’t moving their money out of the country and who just want the best for their football team. Sadly, however, this season at least, they haven’t quite had that. What they do have, surprisingly, is their very own adjoining bathroom showroom between the ground and the clubhouse, useful if you want to pick out some tiles between your last pint and kick off.
This is Egham’s first Isthmian League campaign for thirteen years, and they’d have been right to be superstitious. With only two wins, and fifty three goals conceded, the Sarnies are on their third leadership team of the season. The first manager, Simon Lane, departed after a 3-0 defeat to Chalfont St Peter, whilst the second, Ashley Smith, came in shortly afterwards, managed to pick up only five points out of thirty-six, and might as well never have unpacked his belongings given that he departed only three months after leaving Windsor, his first managerial role coming to an abrupt end. Then, just before Christmas, Runnymede celebrated the arrival of two wise men, new manager Dickson Gill and his Assistant, Mick Sullivan. The third wise man is probably still stuck in traffic on the M25.
Gill was formerly in charge of Croydon and Walton & Hersham- and, some moons ago, Egham- whilst Sullivan had fairly recently left Town’s erstwhile relegation rivals South Park in rather acrimonious circumstances, but would be better remembered for his time in charge at Merstham and Leatherhead. Two pairs of experienced hands on the tiller- but with only one win since August Bank Holiday Monday, would they be able to turn things around?
Performances had improved since their arrival, but results hadn’t. Which suggested that today’s match was rather crucial.
The opposition today was those previously mentioned slayers of Lane, Chalfont St Peter. The Saints last departed our shores at the same time as their opponents, and have spent the last five years competing against the Sarnies in the Southern League, before both transferred to our newly formed South Central Division in the summer. Perhaps the club’s finest moment came in 2009, when they reached the semi-finals of the FA Vase only to lose out on penalties to Glossop North End, but moving back to the modern day this season has been one of consolidation, the club sitting in twelfth place in the table and still searching for consistency. When they’ve been good- victories over Marlow, South Park and Egham spring to mind- they’ve been very good indeed, particularly in the first of those fixtures, but they’ve also been prone to finding themselves on the wrong end of narrow defeats on a number of occasions. They came into this match in a positive frame of mind after victory over Northwood in midweek, and manager Danny Edwards would have been hoping to make it two wins in two, which could have moved his side up to tenth.
From end to end
Amongst the interested spectators was a neutral, but a Bostik League regular- even though he has to commute from Derbyshire. Writer Neil Laughlin, proprietor of the widely-admired Bobbles Blog, has a real affinity with our league, and spoke fondly of a recent visit to Egham’s neighbours Ashford Town, whilst looking forward to a trip to Bedfont Sports. A Non-League devotee since childhood, he recounted tales of visits to Carshalton Athletic (“I love that long terrace”) and Enfield Town (“that fabulous art deco clubhouse”) and of taking his wife to Lewes v Bognor Regis Town (“it was about minus seventeen”) and Haringey Borough (“great football, and great people.”) We’ll look forward to reading his views on his trip to Runnymede.
Despite recent results, there was an optimism amongst the locals that things would pick up for their side. We caught up with five of them before the game, Ross, Jenson, Terence, Harry and Cameron, and each of them predicted a home victory. Three of them were sure it would finish 3-2, Harry went for 2-0 and Jensen went for 3-1. Terence then offered only the top of his head to be photographed, and we believe that is because he is a Lottery winner who wants to remain incognito. Either that or he doesn’t want to be recognised because he’s working undercover for MI5.
The sides emerged onto the pitch from opposite sides of the stand, meeting in the middle for their customary handshake. The Sarnies- by the way, given we’ve had two messages on social media asking us to explain this nickname recently, so for those who are confused let us point out that it isn’t cockney rhyming slang and this isn’t east London- were in red, and their opponents in blue, like your first ever Subbuteo set.
The Saints looked lively from the start, and had the first shot of the game in the third minute, left back Mark Goodman lifting the ball over Town keeper Yannick Makiese- and the goal- after creating himself space. It took nine minutes for the home side to get anywhere near the opposition box, and when they did they ran into the brick wall that was Ruddock Yala. The only other footballing Ruddock we can recall was Neil, who coincidentally also came to prominence as a Saint, and watching today’s version play there was an obvious comparison- although Yala didn’t try to break anyone’s legs. Andy Cole could have turned out for Egham and remained unmolested.
Ruddock- no Razor required
Despite Chalfont’s control, they didn’t make Makiese work at all, and the first sight of a worried goalkeeper came at the other end, when Brandon McCarthy lifted the ball over Carl Dennison and the keeper had to watch as it landed on the roof of the net. A minute later it should have been 1-0, Danny Campion slipping the ball past Dennison and turning away to celebrate, only to see it bounce back off the foot of the post. “Come on Chalfont,” came a shout from the right of the stand- and they did as they were told, going straight on the attack with Yala pulling the strings in the centre of midfield.
By the time we reached the midway point of the first half the game the match had evened out. Chalfont still had the lions share of possession, but Egham looked to have more of a cutting edge. They should have taken the lead on the half hour, Campion charging down the left leaving Adam Kirby in his wake and pulling back for McCarthy, but the striker got his body shape all wrong and pulled the ball past the far post. Campion, who looked the most likely to break the deadlock, then went down in a heap when running into the box, whilst the home bench raised their arms and voices in appeal, but in truth nobody really thought it was a penalty- least of all the referee, Mr Holden.
Then at the other end, Rhys Rabess charged between two defenders and drove the ball over the bar, whilst on the home bench Dickson Gill went apoplectic at the space the striker had been allowed.
Two minutes before the interval and with the home side pressing, a break. The ball ran ahead of Rabess, and Sarnies captain Luke King tried to shepherd it out of play, the striker tussling with him. The whistle blew, and we expected a goal kick, but no- the referee decided that the defender had impeded his opponent. The official brushed off home appeals for leniency, discussed the matter with his assistant, pointed to the spot, and Adam Morris stepped up to put his side ahead. Apart from a very weak effort that had seemed more like a cross, it was Chalfont’s first shot on target- but they had the lead. King was still protesting his innocence as the referee blew the whistle for half time, and you had to feel some sympathy for him.
The main stand at Runnymede
The incident seemed to typify the Sarnies luck this season. On another day they could have been two or even three goals to the good, but they were behind once more. The only consolation for the home faithful- and it wasn’t much of a consolation- was that Molesey and South Park were also trailing at the break.
The home side were first out for the restart, Sullivan exhorting them to be positive. It seemed he was worried that the penalty award was going to distract them; indeed, he had probably heard them questioning the assistant once more as they emerged onto the field. To their credit, they didn’t play as if they were distracted, McCarthy and Campion worrying the Saints defence as they looked for a way back into the game.
The pattern of the game had switched, and now it was Egham bossing possession with Chalfont looking to catch them on the break. McCarthy forced Dennison into a save as we reached the hour mark, but much of Egham’s good work was coming to an end at the edge of the opposition box. The away side should have doubled their lead five minutes later after just such a break, a fabulous run and cross from Charles Mitchell met by Rabess around four yards out; but somehow, with an empty net ahead of him, the striker put it wide. Perhaps Egham’s luck had turned? It was Rabess’s last contribution to the match, as he went off a minute later, Daniel Flemming his replacement.
Egham made a change of their own. Levi Shango came on for Gilberto Abril, and he had 22 minutes to make an impact. Within three minutes he’d certainly made an impact of sorts, on the shins of Alan Henley, and picked up a yellow card for his troubles. He knew how Henley felt a few minutes later, as Yala picked up a similar yellow and this time Shango was the victim.
As we entered the last ten minutes the volume on the pitch went up a notch, the home side desperate to get something from the game, their visitors just as desperate to keep what they had.
The effort could not be faulted, but the end product was sadly missing, and it seemed rather appropriate that the only goal so far had come from the spot. But there was still time, and with four minutes remaining came the equaliser that Egham deserved.
The ball was cleared from the Town half, and both McCarthy and Campion outpaced the defence. Campion left it to his strike partner- and perhaps just as well, he’d looked slightly offside as he’d started his run- and McCarthy slipped it past Dennison to general pandemonium. They celebrated like they’d won the pools- but almost immediately Flemming came close to restoring Chalfont’s lead, denied by Makiese. With seconds to go, Shango laid the ball through to McCarthy and the ball was once again in the net, but Chalfont were able to breathe again courtesy of the assistant’s flag.
Five added minutes promised to be pandemonium- and indeed they were- but the game came to an end without further score.
As the teams left the field, news came through that South Park- after coming back from 3-1 behind at Bracknell Town to level- had fallen to a last minute defeat. Molesey had also lost, 2-0 at home to Ware, so only Egham of the bottom three had anything to show from their endeavours today.
The Egham boys- and publicity shy Terence
With a nine point gap between Molesey and fourth bottom FC Romania, it looks increasingly likely that two of this trio will fill the relegation slots at the end of the season. Egham, it must be said, did not look like relegation candidates today; but South Park too have improved enormously of late, and Molesey, on their day, have shown that they aren’t devoid of hope.
On Tuesday night Town travel to Whitehall Lane to take on the Sparks. Given the recent parting of the ways between Sullivan and his former club- and the manner of it- sparks will undoubtedly fly off the field, but the focus will be on it; and although it might be too early in the season to describe the match as a six-pointer, the feelings of the home side as they headed to the changing room on the importance of the match were quite clear.
This may yet turn out to be a crucial point. And given the manner of the performance, it might just be a turning point, too.
A Runnymede dugout