Tuesday 24th October 2017 ko 19.45
Combined Counties League Premier Division
WALTON & HERSHAM 1 (Okai 68)
BEDFONT SPORTS 0
Att 126 at Elmbridge XCEL Sports Hub
A few weeks ago Robyn and I were fortunate enough to attend a funeral. That’s not a sentence I often write but it was a privilege to be at Walton & Hersham’s final game at Stompond Lane. For the sadness, at the fact that the old ground was falling to pieces, and the club were and are moving into a uncertain future. But as we walked away it did feel that we’d only told half of the story. So here’s the other half.
The Elmbridge XCEL Sports Hub is shared between the Swans, Walton Casuals, and Walton Ahletics Club. The facility sits close to Casuals former home Waterside Drive, the athletics track sitting on the site of the old ground. The football stadium sits adjacent, with the clubhouse incorporating a double-sided stand along the lines of those at Ludlow, or at Meggetland.
It is unquestionably a high-class venue, the specifications impressive although they’ll need to put a sign up on Waterside Drive as a lot of people had to turn round to access the car park! One or two parked in the nearby leisure centre, and you know you watch way too much football when you’ve seen a game on that place too!
The ground has been future-proofed too, just look behind the dugouts for the plinth where another stand could go should either club need it. That would have to be a something other than an “Arena-Type” affair, if only to not have the goals obscured by the dugouts! Similarly it would be simple enough to add cover behind the goals. But as good as the ground is it doesn’t take long to spot it’s vital flaw.
That flaw is that it is an entirely municipal facility; there is just a small badge by the clubhouse door to suggest who plays here. Even the stand’s seats are blue, but the Swans play in red and Casuals play in orange. If nothing else it answers the groundhopper’s vexed question of whose ground is it? The answer is Elmbridge Council, it certainly isn’t either club!
Dig deeper and you find out that the club only sees the gate money and programme/merchandise sales, the busy clubhouse at Stompond Lane has gone, and not been replaced. Which begs the question how can either club survive here, just lodgers at a venue shorn of anything that can make the place feel like home? A month earlier I worried for the Swans as they left Stompond Lane, and having seen the XCEL I still worry.
Still, they managed to win this game, even though they lost the hat trick hero from the Chertsey game Abdeen Abdul to injury after only 23 minutes. Their cause as no doubt helped by Bedfont Sports Jamie Richards’ dismissal for a quite horrible challenge, and the extra space 5 minutes later allowed Jamil Okai to slot home for a deserved winner.