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Tuesday 16th November 2021 ko 19:45

Isthmian League Cup 1st Round


GREAT WAKERING ROVERS 3 (Jeremiah 14p Fuma 29 Gordon 87p)

Att 56

Entry £9

Programme -online

Teamsheet FREE

I’d just arrived at the Mayplace Ground, and was contemplating my first Bovril when my wife Robyn phoned. She asked where I was, and for once I swerved the opportunity to play the Smart Alec. It would have been oh-so-easy to have just said “Phoenix Sports” but chose to actually describe where I was. I said, “Barnehurst- or another way, that bit of South-East London that’s in Kent.” I hope that was sufficient an explanation!

In footballing terms Phoenix play a mere 250 yards from VCD Athletic, but the story here is how the club came to be, and how they settled here. The club’s roots lie in St Johns Welling FC founded in 1935, and later Lakeside FC but like so many other clubs the Second World War caused all activities to cease, and so the club had to be revived after the war. The name is a nod to that revival, and also to the rebuilding of so much that had been destroyed in The Blitz. 

The club played at Danson Park until 1950 when the local authority offered them a piece of waste land in Mayplace Road East, and the great beauty of the piece is that 70 years later you can still see how the place has developed, including where the cricket used to be. 

But Phoenix Sports are probably the best advert I can think of for the former Kent Invicta League. For those who don’t remember, the league was formed in 2011 to provide a link from the Step 7 Kent County League, and the Step 5 Kent League. Part of its constitution allowed its clubs two years grace to achieve ground gradings and while it didn’t last long, the Kent League became the Southern Counties East Premier and the Invicta League merged into it in 2016 becoming its Division One.

Its legacy is there at Phoenix Sports who were its second champions, and then won the SCEFL Premier in 2015 and with it promotion to the Isthmian League. Would the club have been able to progress without that league? Maybe, but the Invicta certainly helped. 

The trouble is this season Phoenix are struggling, and are rock-bottom of the league’s South- Eastern division. Managerial legend Steve O’Boyle has returned to try to steer the club to safety and this game I’m sure was seen as a welcome distraction for him to learn the scale of the task he’d taken on. 

I did find the visitors interesting too. It’s been quite a time since I saw Great Wakering Rovers and I remember them looking too well-appointed and resourced for the Essex Senior League. Thankfully they’ve found their way back to the Isthmian and along the way have picked up two young ultras who told me, 

“We go everywhere with Rovers… even to Felixstowe!

If only they knew the kind of miles I clock up for football… but I did find their enthusiasm rather endearing. They did have the bonus of a ground not in their division to visit; Wakering now play in the parallel Isthmian North Division. 

The Isthmian League Cup (now sponsored by Velocity),  I once described as being a competition designed as being almost designed to annoy groundhoppers. A lot of that was down to the 5 allowable substitutions, and a group phase that saw penalty shoot-outs for an extra point after draws- who on earth thought that borrowing from the EFL Trophy was a good idea? This season the group stage has been dispensed with, so just the 5 subs rule remains and that I think we can all live with!

I’m sure the game was useful to Mr O’Boyle. He no doubt saw the makings of a reasonable team that aren’t quite there down to a mixture of inexperience and lack of know-how. I suspect he’ll look to add some experience into the mix as soon as he can. The two young ultras enjoyed themselves as their team cruised to a fairly easy win, but to see this as being about an away win is to misunderstand where Phoenix Sports have come from and where they are going.