Friday, 20 May 2022

Leatherhead Youth FC - River Lane

Leatherhead Youth FC
River Lane
KT22 0AY

Ground Number: 1076
Friday 20th May 2022
AFC Hammersmith 3-3 Banstead Rovers
Leatherhead & District Sunday League Charity Cup Final


As with many grounds and clubs at this level, information on clubs and grounds is hard to come by. Leatherhead Youth, the current owners of the ground have an unclear formation date, although their Twitter account was established in 2015. Their history and badge indicate an initial link with Leatherhead FC and going further back Mole Valley Predators who themselves were created as a three-way merger between senior side Chessington United and youth sides Predators FC and Fetcham Park United in 2006. As you would expect from a team with such a name, there is no senior side, with the emphasis very much on youth football.


As for senior sides that have used the venue, Chessington White Hart FC was established in 1990 and worked its way through the Surrey South Eastern Leagues. They joined the Surrey County Premier League in 1996 but a year later changed their name to Chessington United. This was not the same side as the current Chessington & Hook United who used the name up until 1986. By 1999, they had finished as runners-up to Chobham & Ottershaw, earning promotion to the Combined Counties League. Following six seasons here, they changed their name to Mole Valley Predators in conjunction with some local youth teams. They left the league in 2006 and possibly have some connection to the current side Sutton Common Rovers who were known as Mole Valley SCR up until 2015. The ground was used up until 2009 until the team decamped to Cobham and later on, Sutton United.

The formation date of the Leatherhead & Sunday League is unclear, but the competition consists of 15 divisions and over 130 teams. As for the two teams, Banstead Rovers had topped the Premier Division. They were a young club, having been established in 2018. They won Division 3 in their debut season and then in the abandoned 2019/20 season finished high enough to gain promotion to Division 1. Last season they finished as runners-up to The Buffs to earn promotion to the top tier which they won this season. AFC Hammersmith Town were slightly older, having been formed in 2011. They joined the Southern Sunday League in 2015, winning Division 1 in their first season. They went on to win the Premier Division in 2017 & 2019. They also won the league's Frank Blunstone Cup in 2017. Last season they played in the Harrow Challenge Sunday Premier, winning all sixteen games. They also won the Jack Walker Open Cup and the Harrow Challenge Premier Cup. They'd only joined the league for the 2019/20 season, finishing 4th in their debut season. This season they were runners-up in the Premier Division, remaining unbeaten all season.


I'm a big fan of Friday night football, but with the season in its dying embers, I didn't think I'd find any. This one kind of fell into my lap by accident, spotted by Oxford-based hopper Laurence on our groundhopping group on WhatsApp. I'd seen the ground used previously for teams in the Conference Youth Alliance League and I thought it would be that sort of game I'd have to do if I wanted to visit. It certainly looked a decent setup and worth a groundhop and so I was glad when I found out that the Leatherhead Sunday League Cup Final would be played there. It was a nice local one and as a result, I'd not have to pay for a meal out. Fellow hopper Colin was also keen to get his numbers up and so I secured his company and help with fuel not long after I initially found out about the game.

The week was really dragging for some reason, perhaps because Wycombe would be at Wembley on Saturday and I had formulated a plan for a decent day. Friday went a little quicker and I was glad when we finally had post for the first time in a few days as there were things I was waiting for. I spent the afternoon at home, deciding the rest of my fixtures for the season. There was not much about, but four more games, with the last on 30th May will see me finish on 167 games. Banstead Rovers had been very friendly and said there was a drink behind the bar for me although I was in two minds whether to take it, what with me driving. I left at 5.55, getting to Colin at 6.10. He kept me waiting for 10 minutes and then told me he'd not got any cash out. We made good progress at first, but then got delayed on the M25. A five-mile detour to Sainsbury's was needed for a cash machine and we got to the ground five minutes before the advertised kick-off. It was a brilliant setup with great food and drink. I also saw Bournemouth fan Vinny at the game. Entry including a programme was £5 though my drink must have been lost in communication and so I made do with Irn Bru. I was glad of a delayed kick-off, we eventually got going at 7.50.

AFC Hammersmith had got to this final, firstly by having a home walkover against ECS Classics. They then won 7-0 at Putney Town before another walkover against Priest Hill. They confirmed their place in the final with a 2-0 win over Barnes Eagles on Sunday. Banstead Rovers had won 7-2 at Mondial, beaten Doverhouse Lions 2-0, and defeated Thames River Plate 3-0 before a 2-0 win at JB Rangers. In the league, AFC Hammersmith had inflicted Banstead Rovers' only defeat of the season in September before being the only side to draw against them nearing the end of the season. Both sides had chances, Banstead edging the possession but AFC Hammersmith looking the more clinical. The latter took the lead on 40 minutes, a slightly deflected low shot from 15 yards finding the bottom left corner. A minute later, it was all square, an attack down the left and a ball into the six-yard box was put home from close range. The halftime whistle soon sounded with the game finding a tempo. Banstead Rovers started the second half well and took the lead on 52 minutes, firing into the roof of the net following an attack down the right. Following the goal, Hammersmith's bench had a couple of men sent off for something they said to the referee and they came and stood near us. Plenty of stick was still given out from their quarter and they saw their side clip the post from a free-kick move. Banstead could have extended their lead, some great footwork by #8 was not rewarded when his ball into the box was not put away. They did make it 3-1 from a penalty awarded for a foul just inside the area and for a while, it looked as if they would see the game out. However, Hammersmith had other ideas, forcing a good save out of the keeper. They got a penalty of their own around five minutes from time and this foul and the reaction cause a melee. After a delay, the penalty was converted to bring the game back to life. Hammersmith equalised in the last minute, a free-kick into the box was headed home and took the game to extra time. There was some controversy before the game could restart as the dismissed Hammersmith coaches gave a team talk from the side of the pitch and some Banstead people were not happy. Hammersmith had by far the better of extra time but the game went to penalties. Hammersmith missed all three and Banstead scored all three to win the cup.

Banstead had bought the majority of fans and they deserved their win. It had been a great game and a really good advert for the league. They celebrated although it was less than a minute before the place was plunged into darkness. We left around 10.45 and had a decent journey home. I dropped Colin off at 11.30 and got home myself 10 minutes later. I had a blog to do, TV to watch and cider to drink. I sorted out my photos and videos and it was quite striking how much better my phone was than my camera. It was Wycombe's date with destiny the next morning and so I set my alarm for 8.30. With me not being a big sleeper, I was aiming for a 2.30 bedtime, although as with usual after a game, I was wide awake.


RIVER LANE is a remarkable setup for a side that doesn't even have an adult team and could probably be suitable for step 6. There's only one side open to spectators and this includes two neat stands which probably seat 150 between them. There's a basic bar and they also do a great range of food. The car park is sizeable although there's not much near the ground in terms of food or drink.

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