Friday 22nd October 2021 ko 19.45
FA Vase 1st Round
SOUTHALL 3 (O’Connor 9 46 Anibaba 80og)
ERITH & BELVEDERE 0
Att 136 at Ashford Town (Middx)
Over the years I’ve developed a mistrust of hard-and-fast rules. In groundhopping terms you don’t bother watching groundsharers preferring to tick off the ground for the primary tenant or owner. But what happens when you’ve already ticked off the ground (Ashford Town 1 Hitchin Town 4 24/1/2006)? Or do you just take the view that its a game of football, it’s dead easy to get to, and why not?
The ground is one of many around Heathrow Airport, and I suspect the aircraft noise is why the pressure to build houses on what would otherwise be prime building land hasn’t been felt as keenly here. Either that for potential homebuyers were put off by the thought of the aviation spirit dump situated behind the goal! Ashford Town play Isthmian League fixtures here at the Robert Parker Stadium or Short Lane, Stanwell if you’d prefer, but when a club groundshares you do sometimes see an interesting effect, and it was in place here.
Southall have been homeless since they lost their Western Road Stadium in 1992, and that sense of exile is made all the worse when you consider the club played both Athenian and Isthmian League football from 1919 to 2000. They also nurtured the careers of the likes of Les Ferdinand, Alan Devonshire, Gordon Hill, Justin Fashanu, and Mark Nicholls. But since losing their home they’ve led a nomadic life playing at the likes of Hanwell Town, Burnham and shockingly the only time they’ve played back in Southall was during 2006-12 when they dropped into the Middlesex County League, where ground gradings were at a minimum.
The club are in negotiations with Ealing Council the idea being to have the club as an anchor tenant in a sports and leisure village-type development, but in the here and now Southall, possibly unwittingly, took advantage of something I see a lot of with my GroundhopUK hat on. It’s this, any secondary club at a ground never gets first call on the pitch so when Saturday or Tuesday games clash with the primary club they have to play at non standard times. Now just about every club you meet tends to like to stick to the same tried and tested Saturday 3pm and Tuesday/Wednesday 7.45pm formula, and the primary user of a ground will almost always take those slots.
There’s nothing wrong with that, but the second you look at attracting more than just your core support, you start to attract floating supporters, fans of other clubs, and yes, groundhoppers. Its the same process that means when I organise a groundhop the host clubs all want as close to Saturday 3pm as possible when the slot that gets the best crowds are Friday and Saturday evening! You saw it here, and as much as it was an enjoyable game to watch half the fun as enjoying catching up with a mixture of friends, groundhoppers, and those on the London football circuit.
The game was interesting and at times rather fiesty. Erith & Belvedere featured ex swindon, and Leyton Orient striker Gary Alexander. He and his other SCEFL teammates gradually became more frustrated as Southall moved the ball at little better, and in the end finished more of the chances they created. I can’t say 3-0 was a completely accurate reflection on play, it was closer than that. But when all that’s said and done, if we’re going to look at clubs in groundshares, then the case of Erith & Belvedere is one of the more unusual ones!
This season marks Southall’s 150th anniversary, and I know the club are redoubling their efforts to find a home of their own. I hope Ealing Council will understand the asset to the area the club are and after far too long away find a way of bringing Southall FC home.