It was probable that, when Corinthian-Casuals confirmed their play-off place with a last minute equaliser on the last day of the season, they weren’t really expecting to be hosting the final seven days later- even if they were undoubtedlty confident of contesting it. Given that the higher placed side gets home advantage, you wouldn’t normally expect the fifth place team to have earned themselves that privilege- but here we were, admiring the hard work done by the volunteers at King George’s Field, awaiting the start of the biggest match in the South Division calendar.
Amongst the neutrals in the crowd, gathered in the sunshine in the run up to kick off, there was no doubt that there was a leaning towards success for the home side. There seems to be two reasons for this. The first, as expressed by a Dorking Wanderers fan in the car park- and he should know- was their loss in last year’s showpiece. Delighted by his own side’s showing this season, he explained, “They should have beaten us last year. We were second best the entire game and then our keeper (Slavomir Huk) won it for us on penalties. I mean, we were the second placed side, we deserved to go up over the course of the season- but we were lucky on the day. It would be nice to see them get some luck this time.” Apart from those thinking that it was only fair that it was a ‘Corinthian year,’ there was also much admiration for the clubs’ amateur ethos, although there was also a smattering of disbelief that an amateur side could attract players as good as those turning out in pink and brown today. We didn’t mention that to home manager James Bracken before the game, as when we broached the subject in an interview back in November it was obvious that it got under his skin a little.
“Everyone knows our situation and people who make claims like that are probably overspending and underachieving, and if clutching at straws makes them feel better, then fine,” he’d explained.” As a club, we maintain a strict amateur status, and as an individual I’m not going to lie about it. Casuals should never have a budget; the club stands for something unique in football, and when I came here I did it to prove a point, to prove I didn’t need money to be successful. I’d won more than thirty trophies in nine years at Sutton United, and when I left to take a job with a zero budget and no salary it was suggested that I’d taken leave of my senses, but I’m proving a point.”
With a second Playoff Final in two years following a season when the club missed out on the Playoffs only due to a points deduction, it could be suggested he’s proved that point many times over.
One thing we were certain of before the match was that it would be Casuals who filled the vacancy in next season’s Bostik Premier Division. The only thing we didn’t know, of course, was which Casuals. As the home side were demolishing Greenwich Borough in Tuesday’s Semi-Final for the second year in succession, their opponents today, Walton Casuals, were overcoming Cray Wanderers at Hayes Lane, defeating their opponents by five goals to two for the second time in ten days. Their supporters were delighted not only by the result but by the manner of it, as they came from behind in both matches to record an emphatic victory whilst playing some absolutely scintillating football.
The result- or at least the scale of it- may have come as something of a surprise, but the quality of the football did not. Anthony Gale’s side have been one of the most entertaining teams in the Bostik League this season, and including that match on Tuesday night had found the back of the opposition net a rather unbelievable 103 times. Only Cray Wanderers, ironically, Heybridge Swifts and Folkestone Invicta- all Semi-Final losers this week- and Billericay Town had scored more. In Josh Kelly they had- on league goals alone- the highest scorer in the Division, but he certainly wasn’t a one-man band, nineteen players in orange having found their way onto the scoresheet.
Anthony, speaking back in September, had been confident of ending the season successfully. “There are an awful lot of teams in this division capable of gaining a playoff position, five or six who could be champions. I believe we are capable of being in that five or six, and that we’ll end up at very much the right end of the table. Last year we had clubs, superpowers within the league if you like, who came in for our players with seven day approaches and threw large amounts of money at them, and it undermined our squad. This year I’m sure the same kind of offers will arrive, but I trust my players to understand that, at their ages and if they want to continue to improve and develop, to build a better future, they will be better off staying here for now. “
He had been proved entirely right, on all counts, and anyone who had watched that match on Tuesday would not only have been impressed by the quality on display but by the work ethic and the team spirit of the Walton Casuals side. It would be difficult to for the neutral to pick the winner today.
There were, of course, many in the stadium who had no such difficulty deciding on who the victors were going to be- and those were the people on the terraces resplendent in pink and brown, or a bright shade or orange. From the pink side of the spectrum, Casuals award-winning programme king and photographer Stuart, and his camera-toting colleague Andy were both confident of victory, although to some extent they were doing a great impression of both ends of a swan. Stuart was serene, calm- as he explained “more worried about everything going well off the field than what happens on it,” whilst Andy was full of nervous energy, although, as he pointed out, “it’s the hope that kills you.” Both reminisced about last season’s match at Dorking, and were hopeful that there wouldn’t be a repeat, but Stuart was convinced that, on this occasion at least, nerves wouldn’t be a factor on the pitch. “We’ve been here before. We know what to expect. Nerves got in the way a little last season, but everyone is far more chilled this year. In any case, whatever happens we’ve no idea which league we’ll end up in next year.” This was one of many comments on the impending FA reshuffle, which seemed to be occupying the thoughts of a number of the fans in attendance. By the way, which ever league Corinthian-Casuals are in next season, get yourself a programme. You’ll find that they are deservedly award winning.
Stuart and Andy, pink and brown Casuals
Fans of the other Casuals, were enjoying the sunshine, the barbecue and the bar before kick off- and they were entirely positive. Scott typified this positive outlook. “We’ve looked good over the last few weeks, and we’re particularly confident after the way we played in the Semi-Final. We’ll win 3-2 today, it’ll be 1-1 at half time, and we’ll undoubtedly concede the first goal- we always do- but it won’t matter. We’re a second half team.” Pressed on whether he’d be happy with the way the season had turned out even if they were to lose (“it’s not going to happen”), he added, “Of course, it’s been a fabulous season. And the manager has done such a good job- it isn’t just work for him, he really loves the club, and it shows.”
The teams emerged into glorious sunshine at five to three- it was a surprise to see that neither keeper had brought a cap- and Walton kicked off. It was the other Casuals, however, who settled quicker, earning three corners in the first six minutes, although failing to make anything of any of them. As we entered the ninth minute Walton got their first similar set piece, and whilst it was cleared to the edge of the box it was picked up by Tyrell Richardson-Brown, and his weaving was brought to an illegal end. Kelly took the free kick, and he managed to beat the wall, but home keeper Gareth Williams was down to his right to push it away and out for another corner. Three minutes later Walton were on the attack once more, Youseff Bamba turning full back Frazer Walker inside out before charging into the box and being the subject of a last-ditch tackle. More Walton pressure followed, and on the quarter hour Kelly went down in the box under a challenge, but whilst the away fans bayed for a penalty the referee was unmoved. The Back of the Net team spent the next five minutes debating this decision and couldn’t agree, so the referee deserved the benefit of the doubt! Two minutes later it was Josh Uzun’s turn to go down in the box, and the home fans turn to shout, but the outcome was the same. This one was far more clear cut, and the referee seemed to be once more correct.
In the twentieth minute Richardson-Brown had the best chance of the game so far. He cut Corinthian-Casuals open down the right, shot across the keeper, but couldn’t find the inside of the far post. In truth, for all his attacking run was excellent, his shot should have been at least on target- it was a let off for the home side. The away side had the next chance, too- a free kick from Daryl Coleman too close to the keeper, who made a fairly easy save. It was the Stags fans who had the most to shout about.
The game then went rather stale as both sides struggled with the heat. The rest of the half brought little to be excited by, and the referee brought the first period to an end with little for either set of supporters to cheer.
Luigi of Casuals- first appearance at Lewes last season, ever-present since!
The trend of early corners continued after the restart, but this time the first one went to Walton Casuals- a great tackle from Warren Morgan stopping a Bamba run. One pattern didn’t change, however- nothing was made of the set piece. The home Casuals fans behind the far goal- the Tolworth Hermits, perhaps- tried to wake us up with a chorus of “I’m into something good,” and we all hoped it would stir some action on the pitch. If ever a game needed a goal, this was it.
Mu Mann forced a corner for Corinthian four minutes later, and again it was wasted. The Walton fans behind the far goal decided to join the Bostikvision Song Contest at this point, and for a while both sets of fans were in good voice, but the heat managed to sap even their energy after a while. We’re not used to it, are we? Perhaps what we needed was the sudden onset of a cold front.
On the hour mark the persistence of Ottaway saw the ball laid off to Maan. He had time, outside the box, to line up a shot, but unless he was lining it up on Tolworth Station it was rather inaccurate. It did, however, herald a wave of Corinthian pressure, and two corners in quick succession for the home side, but although these created excitement behind the goal they offered nothing else.
Anthony Gale made the first tactical change with 22 minutes to go, taking off Richardson-Brown and bringing on Sean McCormack. On Tuesday night his tactical changes won him the game. Would the same happen? The early signs weren’t positive. And then, finally, some excitement. The best move of the game so far, and it was Corinthian-Casuals with it, a great overlapping run from Frazer Walker seeing the ball crossed, Gerrar unable to hold, and the ball poked home- only for the officials’ flag to cut short the celebrations.
Scott and Tom of the orange Casuals
As we moved into the final fifteen minutes the prospect of extra time loomed large. As had been the case for the entire game, there wasn’t a lack of endeavour, both sides chasing and harrying, but there was a distinct lack of opportunity. Kelly at one end and Ottaway at the other had been starved of decent chances for the entire game, and the balls that had been played to them had seen them having to play a holding role rather than giving them the chance to play to their strengths.
And then the moment came. A great run from Hamilton Antonio, a fabulous pull back…and Mu Maan cleared the stand once more. You could almost hear the groans in Richmond. Three added minutes, and then we’d face thirty more. The announcement that the crowd was nine hundred and thirty brought perhaps the most excitement of the afternoon so far. The whistle blew, and extra time was confirmed.
In the fifth minute of extra time Youseff Bamba worked himself a chance on the edge of the box, but shot straight at Gareth Williams. Then at the other end Gerrar made a better save, from Gabriel Odunaike. A great tackle from Jack Strange was required to stop Jack Sammoutis, and the game finally seemed to spring into life. Walton had the next chance, a cross from Kelly headed just over the bar. Perhaps we might be spared penalties yet? Another minute, another chance, another Walton corner- and an injured Strange having to go to the sidelines after treatment. But a foul on the keeper saw the opportunity go begging. Then, as we moved towards the third interval, great work from substitute Max Oldham saw a chance fall to Ottaway, but his shot went just past the Walton post with Gerrar scrambling.
With 122 minutes on the clock another great save from Gerrar, keeping out Odunaike, as the game became stretched. The home side were having most of the possession and applying most of the pressure as many of the players began to look understandably tired, but still there was no breakthrough. Their fans turned up the volume in an attempt to inspire even greater endeavours, and Oldham responded, charging into the box and driving in a cross which was deflected for a corner, which was, in turn, scrambled clear. But, as had seemed inevitable for almost 120 minutes, we were going to penalties. When the referee blew his whistle it was almost drowned out by groaning.
The main stand filling up an hour before kick off
The spot kicks were going to be taken at the end currently inhabited by the home supporters, so the away supporters wandered down to join them. Walton got things underway, and Max Huswick sent the keeper the wrong way to open the scoring. Ottaway soon levelled, but at this point a scuffle broke out between some of the supporters behind the goal, and this led to a considerable stoppage. Eventually the referee led the players from the field. It was a terrible shame that a match played in good spirit and hosted in an exemplary manner by the home club should be interrupted by a small but vociferous collection of morons. The suspension continued until the police arrived and the blocks of home and away fans were separated.
The match continued, finally, and Harry Mills put Walton 2-1 up, before Antonia levelled matters once more. Josh Kelly was next up, and he found the corner- although Williams wasn’t too far away. Odunaike was next- and disaster, as he leaned back and put the ball over the bar. Advantage orange!
Sarpong then coolly made it 4-2, and it was then up to Corinthian full back Walker to keep his side in the game. His shot was too close to the keeper, and Gerrar was able to make his third decisive save of the afternoon. Walton Casuals were promoted, and their side was soon engulfed in a sea of supporters.
The party will go on late into the night in Walton, whilst Corinthian-Casuals, for the second season in a row, will be left to consider what might have been. Congratulations Walton Casuals-we look forward to seeing you in the Bostik Premier next season.
A Walton huddle