A groundhopper, writing on social media a month ago after a match with Waltham Abbey, was quite clear with his directions to Bedfont Sports. “You’ll know you’ve arrived,” he explained, “when a Boeing 747 tries to land on your head.”
He wasn’t entirely wrong, but luckily the only near-misses we had to record were confined to the pitch.
If you’re reading this you probably haven’t been to Bedfont Sports, and that’s understandable, as this is their first campaign at our level. Founded as recently as 2002, they reached the Bostik South Central Division via the Hounslow and District League, the Middlesex County League, and the Combined Counties League- and putting these achievements in one sentence isn’t to downplay them, as so much progress in such a short period of time is quite astounding. Last season saw them finish in second place in the Combined Counties Premier Division behind Westfield, and that was enough to earn them promotion as- unusually- two sides were raised to Step Four due to the FA’s restructuring of the pyramid.
In truth, however, whilst we were here to watch the first team, the success of this club shouldn’t be measured on the merits of its senior side- even though it would be entirely right to celebrate those achievements. For if you look past the headlines, Sports are a true community success story.
Take a trip to their website, and hover the cursor above the button marked ‘Teams.’ You’ll then need to scroll down rather a long way to take in all that the Eagles have to offer. THIRTY- and we’ve put that in capitals to highlight it, by the way, we’re not shouting at you- teams represent this club, and they include girls, veterans, Under 7’s to Under 16’s, and even Sunday League sides. All of that in little more than sixteen years. Add in the fundraising that, alongside a Football Foundation grant, paid for the 3G pitch and marvellous clubhouse which now serves an area hardly endowed with lots of sports facilities, and it is quite clear why club chairman David Reader won the 2017 ‘BBC-Get Inspired’ Unsung Hero Award for London. The work of David and his colleagues is inspiring to read about, and even better to view close up. Indeed, it might even be said that the first team are a very small part of the whole story.
For a while it looked as if that promotion might have been premature. As we entered November, Sports had managed to win only two of their league matches, picking up just eight points from thirty, form which surely pointed to a relegation battle. But then something clicked. November dawned with victory over Uxbridge, and that was followed by wins over South Park, Northwood and- most impressively- Waltham Abbey, who arrived at the Recreation Ground and found the experience anything other than recreational. A second minute goal gave the Abbotts the lead, but the home side weren’t going to be cowed, and went on to score four goals of their own despite playing the last thirty-five minutes with ten men. Suddenly the rest of the league was sitting up and taking notice. Manager Paul Johnson picked up the Anderson Travel Manager of the Month Award, and December started well, too, with a 2-2 draw against another fancied side, Cheshunt, and a 4-1 hammering of Egham Town.
Last Saturday, however, it went rather wrong, as hosts Hayes & Yeading United walloped six goals past keeper Matte Pierson- the second time that they’d walloped half a dozen against Johnson’s side this season- and leading scorer Charlie Postance received a red card. Did that mean that the wheels had come off the Bedfont fun bus? Well we were about to find out; although it must be pointed out that Hayes were the highest scoring side in the country at present, and as well as two six goals hauls against Sports had managed five or more on seven other occasions this season. Perhaps all their victory demonstrated was just how good Paul Hughes side actually are?
The officials changing room- inspiration for what happened later, perhaps
The visitors today, Ashford Town, were a club who could share Sports pain, as they’d also been ‘Yeadinged’ (that isn’t a real verb, but perhaps it might enter the Oxford English Dictionary before the summer) this season, conceding seven. But that was a while ago, and at this point manager Ben Murray must be more concerned about how he can instil some consistency into his side, as they are either marvellous- exemplified by hammerings of Heybridge Swifts, Uxbridge, Westfield and South Park- or awful, as demonstrated by defeats to Northwood, Marlow, Molesey and then, last weekend, a 4-1 home hammering by Hanwell Town. When they had been good, they had been very good indeed- form which had taken them to sixth place- but you never seemed to know whether the Tangerines that turned up would be fresh and, erm, juicy, or past their use-by date. Using thirty two players so far this season can’t have helped- but there Sports had done even better, if that is the right word, as they came into this match having used forty one!
The Tangerines weren’t in tangerine today, but yellow, whilst their hosts were in red and black horizontal stripes. Home supporters occupying the seats purchased from the Olympic Stadium- it’s nice to see that some of that public expenditure went to a worthy cause- were sure of victory, raising their voices to predict 3-2 and 2-1 scorelines, whilst a Singapore Airlines jumbo landed behind the clubhouse. This sound was a recurring feature of the afternoon- perhaps you get used to the noise if you live in the area, or perhaps residents of Bedfont have simply learned to cope with insomnia. They’ll have even more of a problem sleeping when the new runway is constructed, although the football club will benefit, as whilst some of their land will be lost the compensation payment will cover further improvements to their facilities.
It was the away side who had the best of the opening ten minutes, although without really threatening- but as is often the way, the breakthrough came at the other end. In the twelfth minute, Sports first shot on target- indeed, THE first shot on target- found the net, Scott Harris keeping it low and firing it across a crowded box into the corner.
Town didn’t panic. They continued to try to pass the ball through the midfield, continued to probe, although without really causing enormous concern to Matte Pierson in the Sports goal. Indeed, perhaps more panic was required, and more urgency, as Sports went two up in the 28th minute, a free kick into the box headed home by substitute Michael Adeyemi. In truth, the header looked to be fairly routine for Town keeper Tyler Tobin, but somehow he was unable to stop it and the ball crept over the line.
The Eagles have landed
The game ebbed and flowed, the home side content with their advantage, and then an incident which confused many of those present. A foul by Ashford full back Steve Loveridge on his Sports counterpart Perry Luckins, who was running clear, saw a free kick given to the home side- and it was followed by a red card.
But the card wasn’t for Loveridge.
Luckins picked himself up and began a trudge towards the changing rooms, whilst the referee then produced a yellow for the Town defender. Given the lack of home protests it seemed as if the Sports number three had done something to deserve his punishment- but at this point, what he had done was rather uncertain. Whatever it was, it had given Town hope. They may have been two goals behind, but they now had fifty-five minutes against ten men to get them back.
It took them until the last minute of the half to come close, Mark Bitmead and Kofi Lockhart-Adams causing consternation in the home defence, and they came closer still during the four minutes of added time, a free kick from Bitmead short only of a final touch. More pressure followed, but the whistle blew with the electronic scoreboard still showing Bedfont Sports 2, Ashford Town 0.
The teams arrive
Town were out for the second half almost five minutes before their opponents, and seemed imbued with a new determination. They got us underway in the fading daylight, and went straight on the attack, but Sports, who understandably had left only Mustafa Tiryaki forward, were also determined to hold on to what they had. They did much more than that, however.
Only four minutes in, the home side pushed forward. Harris was a fair distance from the Town goal, but was afforded far too much space and time. His strike was hard, low, and true, and left Tobin grasping at thin air. Surely there was no way back? Two minutes later another Harris strike crept past the far post, and the ten men were dominant. The away support, fairly vocal up until this point, fell silent. You couldn’t really blame them; their team had given them precious little to shout about.
They had their chance in the 56th minute. A free kick from just outside the box found the feet of Lockhart-Adams. He was eight yards out, the goal gaped, and his shot somehow bounced back off the underside of the bar and was cleared. “Bloody hell, it was easier to score,” exclaimed a Town fan to the left of the press box, and it was easy to understand his anguish. Lockhart-Adams tried to make up for this miss four minutes later, forcing Pierson to save with his feet, but the follow up shot by Nebay Haile was more typical of their luck, as it was as high as it was wide, and it was very wide indeed.
The next real chance once again came to Sports. Harris sent the ball through to substitute David Pitt, and, one-on-one, he seemed to have wrong footed the approaching keeper, only for Tobin to get a touch on the ball and divert it away from the replacement striker as he shaped to finish.
A gaggle of planespotters
As we moved into the last quarter of an hour conversation between some away supporters summed up what we’d seen since the break rather accurately. “You wouldn’t know which team was a man down, would you?”
It wasn’t that Sports had dominated- indeed, they’d conceded much of the possession- and yet Pierson had hardly been overworked.
Town tried a final push. Bitmead had probed all game, and continued to push his side forward. The midfield maestro tried to force matters, and came closest yet six minutes from time, curling a free kick around the Bedfont wall and striking Pierson’s right hand post. “What else have we got to do to score,” yelled manager Murray, and a minute later a header from Lockhart-Adams again hit the underside of the bar before bouncing back into the keepers arms. At this point it seemed that the answer to the manager’s question may be found only in prayer.
As we entered added time, a Bedfont break. Two forwards ran clear, and the ball was played across to Jack Mills. His finish was emphatic, and the game was well and truly over. The referee played exactly the three additional minutes he’d allotted, and the final whistle went. The final word went to two away supporters.
The Bedfont clubhouse- and some executive seats!
“That was terrible, weren’t it?”
The response was considered. “No. It wasn’t that good.”
Captain Matthew Webb, a Bedfont resident, was famed for becoming the first man to swim the English Channel. He later died whilst trying to swim the rapids at the foot of Niagara Falls, which perhaps suggests that he’d badly overestimated his sporting abilities. In the intervening one hundred and thirty five years the people of the town have had little else in the way of sporting endeavour to celebrate, but there is something worth celebrating right under their noses. The average crowd at Hatton Road prior to today was seventy-nine, which might suggest that the community hadn’t taken the club to their hearts, but in truth the strength of this club isn’t measured by the number who line the perimeter of the pitch on a Saturday afternoon, but by the hundreds who turn up every week to use its facilities.
Before todays match, Chairman Dave was delighted to offer a guided tour of the facilities. He was proud of what had been achieved here- and justifiably so. His pride wasn’t just centred on the physical structure, however, but on the value of the club to the community. A gym, a training centre for local boxers, a fabulous bar and function room offering a meeting place throughout the week for community groups and the elderly; this wasn’t just a football club, it was, to all intents and purposes, a community centre. As he outlined his plans to do even more- more construction, more expansion, his passion was quite clear, and indeed, rather inspirational. It was a determination which had also infected those around him.
Ashford Town and a virgin
If football truly is the people’s game, then perhaps we should be rather less obsessed with the numbers who watch it, and more with the numbers who play it. The growth of Bedfont Sports, and the endeavour that has brought about that growth, has happened on the back of a wish to serve the community, to grow the game, and to give both children and adults the opportunity to pull on a pair of boots, get some exercise, and have a good time.
Bedfont Sports are unlikely to win the Bostik South Central Division this season. They might not win it next season, either- and indeed, given the resources they have to invest in their first team, if they ever win it then that success will be both unexpected and thrilling. But a visit to Hatton Road proves conclusively that there are other- and better- ways to measure success.