Saturday 23 August 2008

Walton Casuals

There's a saying in football that you're only as good as your league position, and no matter what level I think Dulwich Hamlet should be playing at, the rable does not lie. And we have been stuck in the Ryman League Division One South for a bit longer than I expected. With the introduction of the Conference South more and more what I term as 'natural county league clubs' are progressing upwards. Maybe a bit harsh from me, but I am a bit of a 'footballing dinosaur' at heart, & prefer to play old, established 'traditional' clubs.

Walton Casuals are a club slowly but surely moving onwards, but never in a million years can I ever see them progressing further than the level they are at now. But how I have seen them progress. For many years their First Team competed against other Reserve sides in the intermediate & completely second string Suburban League, until they took the plunge & got senior status. My first visit here was to watch their First Team play the Hamlet Reserves over twenty years ago, when this was an open field, and no more than a roped off pitch, with the bar and changing rooms in the same corner. No proper bar, but selling cans of beer, presumably because they never had a licence back then. Without doubt this is now a nice little ground, & more than adequate for their crowds and level. On the night I took these the attendance was 106, with around 30 making the trip from Champion Hill.

It's not one of my favourite grounds, mainly because of it's location. A good 40 minute hike from the station, and no bus service for night games! If you're here in daylight at least it's a pleasant walk to the ground from Walton town centre, if you make a slight detour & head to the river, then walk along the banks of the Thames.

The entrance is on a small road, right by the banks of the river.

I doubt if you'll find a smarter turnstile block in the division!

As you come through them you see the back of the dugouts, and a nice sign telling you where the bar & tea bar are. A nice touch.

Going round in a clockwise direction there a a hard surround, with a 'covered shed' on your left.

But before that you pass these two benches. I can only wonder if they were the only seating from the days before they built the modern stand on the far side for ground grading purposes.

I called this a 'covered shed' because you can't really describe it as a 'covered terrace'. I'm not sure how to describe it actually. It hangs out from the changing room area, and there is a section like this either side of the players' tunnel.

Past this and the walkway continues to the corner, with the bar area on the left, behind the chain link fence.

From this corner we look across the pitch. You can see the seating area on the far side; and that ugly building up the far end is the local sportscentre next door.

Behind the goal is the footpath, that goes all the way round the pitch. There is a small covered terrace behind the goal itself.

Before we see that terracing we look back down the side, to get another look at the cover there, and the brick dugouts.

And here is the terrace. Why you're not supposed to stand at the front I have no idea! Bleeding 'Health & Safety Police!' ;-)

Past this is the path again. strangely there is this 'one step' wooden sleeper, to make some sort of 'step of terrace'. It's the only one in the whole ground. Why?

Our first look down the far side. Open, apart from the seating in the middle. If I knew how to I could 'airbrush out' that sportscentre. Shame that's not possible in real life!

Looking across the pitch from the next corner flag.

Here's a hoarding from the company that built their stand.

And here is the stand. More than up to scratch for what is needed. But oh so characterless.

At least the officials don't get any 'posh' seats!

One of the club sponsors. This is a tidy enough ground, and somehow this graffiti covered sign just didn't look right.

Past the stand it's the hard standing again.

A last look back down the side, before we move on.

Behind the other goal it's identical to the other end.

The ground may not have too much individuality, but at least they try by painting the net supports in club colours. I liked that.

Stuck in the corner is another 'ground graders folly'. The unused turnstile block!

From here we look back behind the goal...

Almost overcome by the stench from the rotting cuttings from the pitch, dumped by the tractor. Why oh why do clubs do this? It stinks!

Almost back to where we came in, on the left here is a patch of grass that is used as small training area.

And here are the turnstiles where we came in. Tour of Walton Casuals complete!

Walton & Hersham

To say Walton & Hersham is not one of my favourite places is an understatement! That's no fault of the club itself. The fans are a decent enough bunch when you visit. But down to my total dislike of any grounds that stage football with running tracks. They are an abomination and should not be allowed! I' not sure of the exact details but I think that they are looking to either redevelop here, or relocate. Whatever they do Stompond Lane is a terrible place to watch football as far as I'm concerned, and sadly becoming very run down. But it's still home to their loyal fans, fair play to them for supporting their team there. I know I couldn't watch my football regularly at running track venues.

Despite that I've still been here many times to watch the Hamlet, since the late seventies. Back in those days we always had a full supporters' coach. It always left after the final whistle, & after one game the coach got out of the car park, but couldn't get through Stompond Lane, because of double parked cars. So the 'big blokes' at the back jumped out, and literally bounced it out of the way. Cue one angry owner running out of his house, then retreating when seeing a couple of dozen jeering South Londoners!

A few years ago I had a bad cold, and was spluttering and coughing away all through the match. Unfortunately we were standing right by the bloke who was videoing their games, & throughout the second half you get to hear me drowning out almost everything else!

As I said it's a small side turning. You can see why that coach got blocked in!

A council run ground, which perhaps explains why it looks so neglected.

Here is the entrance block. the ground is set behind it.

As you enter, to the left, you see the club house. Note the tribute to those who died at the Hillsborough disaster on the board.

The bar is a 'stand alone' building inside the ground, and neatly painted in club colours.

A garden shed for selling programmes, it all adds up to a club whose fans care, & take pride in their club.

Walking straight ahead from the turnstiles you come into the stadium, and this grass bank is on the left as we enter. Underneath this grass are a few shallow step of terracing.

Practically hidden, but still visible.

From here, as in most areas of athletics grounds, you are a fair way from the action.

We get a sight of the terracing behind the goal.

And a decent covered terrace down the far side.

As we walk round there's just a path in the corner.

I do like this terracing. But it's just so far from the action. Almost a waste of a construction.

Who on earth stands on it? The athletics facilities even obscures your view of the goal itself!

Just stand at the back & you can look behind at the tennis club, if there's anyone playing!

From here we look to our right, and see the main stand, the only decent vantage point in the ground.

There is a gap in the terrace for these exit gates.

As I said, you're a heck of a distance from the pitch!

The terrace cruves round to the corner, and here we see the covered terrace on the horizon.

Again just a narrow path in the corner to reach it.

A look across the pitch.

A lovely length of terrace. Imagine how good this would be if there was no track & it was almost on the touchline.

There are exits at the back, not a modern safety requirement, but with old concrete steps down behind. I dread to think how often this has been used as a 'temporary toilet' by fans needing a leak, but not prepared to yomp round to the other side!

A look across, with the hurdle emphasizing that this is an athletics ground first, as if the track wasn't enough on its own.

Towards the far end we look back down. At least you're elevated above the track at the back of it, so the view, at least, isn't 'as bad' as it could be.

Reaching the end we look behind the far goal. No terracing here, just a path.

Apart from ballboys I cannot imagine anyone watching a match from here.

We're almost on our 'last leg' of our tour, and here you see the stand, and grass bank before we get there, along the side.

Tucked in the corner is a disused brick building, which was once both a tea bar & club shop.

This banking leads up to the stand.

The main stand looks impressive from the pitch...

With the dugouts in front.

Park style benches inside them, one with an inscription on it. Was Harry Lucas a Swans fan? Or an athletics fan perhaps? Or maybe a genuine park bench, relocated here by the council?

The League sponsors sign is tattered. Not what you would expectwhen the owner of that company Theo Paphitis is actually a Walton & Hersham director!

When you get up into the stand you realise it's not a smart as it looks.

Even the 'posh' seats are hard, solid, uncomfortable old plastic.

As I mentioned the vantage point is better from up here.

Is there a store of odd coloured seats to replace broken ones somewhere?

I should say broken or burnt!

And so it's back to where we started.

With one look back at the stand before we're on our way. Much as I'd rather watch every single Dulwich Hamlet match that's simply not possible, as I have to work every other Saturday in my job, and it's the work that pays for a roof over my head, and the football. I won't be shedding too many tears if Walton & Hersham away is when I am working!