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Saturday 25th May 2013 ko 14.00

Middlesex County League Premier Division

SLOANE 2 (Kelly 2 Ellerby 90)

FC ASSYRIA 1 (E Baki 21)

Att 9

Entry & Programme FREE

When I first started groundhopping I soon got used to the incredulity. I actually went to watch Barking FC when someone commented, “You must be mad,” so I could respond, “Yes, completely Barking, and I’ve done that one too!”

The other accusation I occasionally hear is, “You’d even watch a game on Hackney Marshes!” Well, why shouldn’t I and I do have history with the place! As a highly disappointing right back for the University of North London’s 5th XI I played 2 seasons here in the early 1990’s, and I hadn’t been back since graduation.

Perhaps inevitably a lot had changed, the old clubhouse has been demolished and replaced with an impressive modern affair that used rust as a means of decoration. The café bar served an excellent coffee, and the bar/viewing area upstairs was a far cry from the beer that was lousy but cheap all those years ago. I stood by the pitch and it took a good 10 minutes to align myself with my memories!

I had a little run-in with officialdom too, and it does seem to only happen at local authority run facilities. An employee behind a desk was at great pains to inform me that photography was only allowed with written permission of Hackney Council. So young sir, if you’re reading this, the letter’s in the post-honest!

The marshes lie on the western bank of the River Lea and were incorporated into the Lee Valley Park in 1967. It was originally a true marsh, but was extensively drained from Medieval times, and rubble was dumped here from buildings damaged by air raids during World War II.

The celebrated cockney music hall performer Gus Elen sang a song entitled If It Wasn’t for the ‘Ouses In Between’ which included the following chorus,

Oh it really is a wery pretty garden
And Chingford to the eastward could be seen;
‘Wiv a ladder and some glasses,
You could see to ‘Ackney Marshes,
If it wasn’t for the ‘ouses in between.”

In 1997 Nike used the facility for an advert featuring some greats of the game, and in 2006 got into trouble with Hackney Council over the use of the Council’s logo on their would you believe Hackney Marshes range of sportswear. The range was to celebrate the fields where David Beckham and Terry Venables got their start, “as a symbol of all that is great about amateur football” they said. The escapade cost the firm £300,000 in damages. but here’s the advert, it is superb and this at least offended no one.


Today the marshes provide many pleasant walks, in reach of the inner city, but the most famous use of Hackney Marshes is for Sunday league football, with 88 full-size pitches marked out. On a typical Sunday, over 100 matches are played by amateur teams in several local leagues. There are 2 show pitches, the first used by Sporting Hackney, who produced a programme for their fixture against their own reserves, and the second by Sloane.

The big impact on the marshes recently was last year’s Olympics a few hundred yards away in Stratford; the ArcelorMittal Orbit Tower is just about visible above the tree-line and the Eastern Marsh was temporarily tarmacked over for use as a car park.

I’ve watched Sloane before, at their former home of behind the Royal Hospital Chelsea, of Chelsea Pensioners fame. It was a unique location, but they were forced to move as the pitch was too small, but a move is afoot to another of their stamping grounds at Franklin’s Row, opposite the hospital which would provide quite a backdrop!

What I don’t understand is the Middlesex County League’s insistence on programme production. With an attendance of 9, or which I estimate 8 were hoppers, even if the club had charged for the magazine, there is no way it could have been anything other than a loss maker which in these straitened times clubs can ill-afford. Yes, hoppers do love programmes, but hoppers are by their very nature transient customers. Great on an organised event, but irrelevant day-to-day.

The game had all the hallmarks of end of season fayre. Both sides tried hard, the first half saw an exchange of goals, and some common-sense refereeing from Mr Thomas. The second half can best summed up by the end of season conversations including sex-change footballers, and the possibilities of playing snooker with a foam cue! That 45 minutes was at least punctuated by Sloane’s winner, Phil Ellerby slotting home from the left, but in truth this fixture was largely an exercise in completion, a little like the motivation of 8/9ths of the spectators!

I left after looking round the new centre, it all seemed a far cry from student days and flat Toby bitter at 85p a pint, but that’s progress I suppose. I wouldn’t rule out a return though, I’d love to do a game on the pitch I used to play on…. any given Sunday!