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Saturday 21st March 2009 ko 11.00

Middlesex County League Division One Central & East

SLOANE 4 (Crisp 45 Jarvand 58 63 Burden 78)

COPLAND 3 (Simpson 25 90 Silcott 90)

Att 128 at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea

Entry Free

Programme £2 (very good!)

Coffee 50p

The roots of this fixture lie with QPR fan, journalist and programme enthusiast Tony Incenzo. For a few years now he’s organised early kick-offs in the Middlesex County League, with the host team printing a programme, and laying on refreshments too. Its simplicity is its genius, most if not all hoppers will find a 3 o’clock kick-off to pair it off with and so it really is a case of buy one get one free, at least in terms of time!

For me, the most intriguing one of the series was this one, as it was staged in the grounds of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, on the banks of the Thames with Battersea Power Station behind. The hospital is famous for its residents, the Chelsea Pensioners, and there are fairly strict criteria to be accepted as resident.

To be eligible for admission as a Chelsea Pensioner, a candidate must be a former Warrant officer, Non-commissioned officer, or soldier of the British Army who is:

  • Over 65 years of age, and;
  • Either in receipt of an Army Service Pension or War Disability Pension which they are required to surrender upon entry to the Royal Hospital or, if they do not receive an Army Pension they are required to pay a £175 per week (as at 2013) contribution towards their living costs, and;
  • Free of any financial obligation to support a spouse or family, and;
  • Be self-caring and able to live independently on the Long Wards.

In 2009 the big news was that the hospital had just accepted its first female resident, 85 year-old Dorothy Hughes, but sadly I didn’t see any of the residents in their distinctive scarlet tunics during my 2-or-so hours there. However it was the first time I had ever paid more to park than I did to watch the game, the meter near Burton Court costing me £10! Still it’s not every day you park next door to a Maserati with a “Diddy” number plate. I wonder….?

The ground was everything I’d hoped for, being the most centrally located pitch in London. You accessed the game via the side of the hospital, and the guard was happy enough with my explanation of “I’m here for the football.” The actual location of the pitch was the South Grounds, in the shadow of the striking Chillianwalla Memorial. It commemorates the 1849 battle in Punjab, now part of Pakistan, where the Second Sikh uprising produced a battle where both the British and Sher Singh’s armies claimed victory but the losses were sufficiently heavy for any victory to be pyrrhic for either side.

The British casualties of 757 killed, 1,651 wounded, and 104 missing severely dented British pride to the extent that such was the consternation over the events at Chillianwala that, after the disastrous Charge of the Light Brigade George Bingham, 3rd Earl of Lucan commented, “This is a most serious matter,”  

Richard Airey, 1st Baron Aireyreplied, “These sort of things will happen in war. It is nothing to Chillianwala.”

Thankfully the game was merely feisty rather than violent with the visitors from Stonebridge Park starting the better and taking the lead before Sloane took control of matters and rattled in four unanswered goals. That looked to be it, but two defensive howlers saw Copland score twice in stoppage time to give a nervous few moments to the hosts. As for myself, I took a last look round my quite stunning surroundings before dashing back to the car. I didn’t want to pay any more to park!

Sloane didn’t stay at the hospital for much longer as it was discovered that the pitch was too small for league regulations. They moved to Show Pitch 2 at the fabled Hackney Marshes where I watched them at the end of the 2012/13 season report here. The reserves still play at London’s most central pitch, and the club is actively looking for a ground that will allow them to progress.