Sunday, 18 January 2009

Ryman League - We're 'avin a laugh

Merstham 5-0 Walton and Hersham (17:01:09)

Where to start!? Well, the question I've probably been asked the most this week is "Where is Merstham!?" so I'd better kick off with that. It's a village in the Reigate and Banstead borough of Surrey, just north of Redhill and Gatwick Airport and on the edge of the North Downs.

Merstham FC are the current Surrey team of the year. Last year gaffer Mick Sullivan put them firmly on the map by leading them to the treble; Combined Counties Premier Division Winners, Premier Challenge Cup Winners and Surrey Senior Cup Winners. Merstham FC are a team of Winners.

So excited were Cynical Dave and I at the prospect of pitching up at the Moatside - home to the winners of pretty much everything - that we sponsored the match. Cynical even wore a suit, a suit! We teamed up with two local comedians Gary Lomas and Wade Moreton (who provided the wittertainment) and the four of us became guests of the club for the day in return for just £40. An absolute bargain.

To put this into perspective, I did a little research (I know!). To go and see the nearest Premier league team to Merstham, you'd have to pitch up at Stamford Bridge. The cheapest tickets you can buy for their forthcoming home fixture with Middlesborough are £50.50p! Merstham charge £8 and what's more - you get a voucher which entitles you to money off for the next home game. So it costs you six times more to see Chelsea and I'd wager you'll have six times more fun watching Merstham.

Cynical Dave, Wade, Mr Lomas and I are all fairly new converts to non-league football. Previously, we all followed big and successful teams apart from Wade who had the grave misfortune to support Crystal Palace. Switching to non league football from the Premiership is a bit like changing from Radio 1 to Radio 2. You never think you're going to do it, but when you do you can't believe you've not been doing it all your life. It really is the way forwards and with players signing for £100m and earning £250k in the Premiership, there has never been a better time to stick two fingers up to it and go and support your local side.

After a few beers in the MFC clubhouse we made our way into the Moatside. The first thing you notice on your arrival is the clubs mascot. It is (be prepared to raise your eyebrows) a dog. An actual dog, not a man dressed up as a dog, although the dog is dressed up, in a home shirt. He is called Charlie. Word has it that Charlie is a lucky dog. This season in the FA Cup, Hornchurch refused permission for Charlie to enter their ground (shame on them). As a result Merstham obviously lost. It was the first game he'd missed for a dogs age.


The two teams were aware that the European Football Weekends bandwagon had rolled into town. This applied a certain pressure to the players. Some rise to the challenge, others crumble due to nerves. Immediately from the outset is was clear that there was only going to be one outcome to this match. As previously mentioned, Merstham are winners. Frankly, it was men against boys. Merstham won 5-0 and as sponsors we were (possibly) awarded the key to the village and (definitely) invited back.

Skipper Craig Vernon marshalled his troops from the back, Kevin Lock scored four times (four times!) but the outstanding player on the field in my opinion was Mark Simmons. He was different gravy. Who needs Lampard, Cole and Drogba when you've got Vernon, Simmons and Kevin 'four goals' Lock!? For the record Walton and Hersham's No. 14 was the size of a bus. Our two resident comedians nicknamed him 'Burgertov'. They are here all week.

It's only goal machine Kevin Lock. Four goals in one game!? No problemo.

Another thing to bare in mind when attending the Moatside is the fact that Merstham have a notorious following in the form of their infamous ultras. They follow the team home and away. Although not very large in number (there are two of them) they are very vociferous and some might say a bit raucous. I say good luck to them both.

Look out - it's the Merstham ultras.

Both at half time and full time we were invited into the boardroom. Merstham is the epitome of a well run club. Without exception everybody we met were warm and friendly. The ladies in the boardroom served up beers, onion bhajees, biscuits and exceedingly nice cakes. I even had the honour of eating the last bit of ginger cake served up to me by club Chairman, director and nicest man you could met Ted Hickman.

In the boardroom. From L-R: Gary Lomas, Cynical Dave, Ted Hickman (Chariman), Wade Moreton and myself.

Cynical Dave and I with the Surrey Senior Cup.

After the match in the club bar we chatted to financial director Martin Barr, club secretary Richard Baxter, Kevin 'four goals' Lock and Mr football himself - the gaffer - Mick Sullivan. Even when Merstham were four nil up and Walton and Hersham had lost the will to live, Sullivan was out on the touchline urging his players forwards. They are all legends and I'd very much like to thank them all. This is all getting a bit Kate Winslett, I'm filling up. It's tears o'clock.

After quite a few (too many) post match beers, Cynical Dave and I headed back to European Football Weekends HQ - the Lord Nelson pub in Brighton. Merstham had won 5-0, we'd had a great day, our pal Big Deaks had scored twice in his park match, cats were kissing dogs and everybody was happy. Roll on Monday (Monday!) when we have to do it all again. Havant and Waterlooville v Lewes in the FA Trophy 2nd round reply anyone!? Yes please....see you there.


Anonymous said...

Quality write up Danny, glad you remembered the days events it all got a bit hazy by the time (midnight) when I was eventually scooped out of the clubhouse. Anyway well done for an excellent write up. I have set up a ultras facebook group so can you upload your ultras pix please

Anonymous said...

Cats kissing dogs? I want a quid everytime you say that

Danny Last said...

A quid!? For those who don't know (and why would you) the above comment was left by England and Kent cricketer Robert 'Keysy' Key. He claims he coined the phrase 'cats kissing dogs' after he notched his maiden half-century against Australia.