Blind Beggar, Elephant Man, Football, George Cornell, groundhopping, John Merrick, Krays, Non League, Salvation Army, Spiegerhalter, Sporting Bengal United, Stepney Green Astro, Whitechapel, Wickhams, William Booth, Wimbledon Casuals
Tuesday 8th November 2022 ko 19:45
London Senior Trophy 1st Round
WIMBLEDON CASUALS 6 (Wren 10 Marshall 55 90 Lane 61 67 Parsons 90)
SPORTING BENGAL UNITED 0
Att c20 at Stepney Green Asto
Sometimes you stumble across a game that seems so far removed from your normal experience that you simply feel compelled to give it a go. For one thing having only a shade over two hours to get from Oxford to East London after work made driving out of the question and that was without thinking about Congestion charges, ULEZ charges and the like. I knew of the ground, some British Somali Champions League games get played there, but the time and location I thought would make me arriving there in time impossible, but then I had a brainwave.
It all boiled down to Lizzie, or more accurately the Elizabeth Line that had just opened from Reading in the west and runs through Central London before branching out in the east to Shenfield and Abbey Wood. It calls in at Whitechapel so I battled the traffic, parked up and took the Lizzie Line from Hayes & Harlington to Whitechapel, it took just 30 minutes, a journey hitherto impossible in that time.
On arrival it was a real shame I didn’t have more time, because in the that short ten-minute walk from the station to the football ground, there’s no end of history. Opposite the station is the site of the shop were John Merrick, the “Elephant Man” was displayed as a human novelty and beyond that London Hospital where he died in 1890. Adjacent to the station is the “Blind Beggar” pub infamous as being where in 1966 Ronnie Kray shot and murdered George Cornell ; apparently, there are still bullet holes there. The pub was also where in 1852 William Booth made his first sermon, eventually leading to the creation of the Salvation Army. A small bust of Booth marks the exact spot outside.
As you walk along the Mile End Road, look the faded elegance of the now defunct Wickham’s Department Store, once designed in the 1920’s to be an East London rival to Harrods. But look again at the line of the roof, and you’ll see it looks like a chunk has been taken out. In fact it was a classic case of a ransom property, Spiegerhalter’s Jewelers decided they didn’t want to sell to Wickham’s, and never did. If you’d like more on the Wickhams and the Spiegerhalters, I recommend “The Tim Traveller’s” excellent, and humorous video on the subject.
Despite the excellence of the train service, and my mad dash, I arrived a few minutes after the scheduled kick off of 19:30, so the delayed start was handy for me, and definitely the adage of buying a lottery ticket applies! If you’ve ever watched a London Undergroud League or the like at Market Road you’ll see Stepney Green as the single pitch equivalent. It’s an excellent facility for the player, and less so for the spectator, and since neither club had advertised the fixture in any way shape or form I wasn’t expecting amazing spectator facilities, and all the hoppers there had taken a certain leap of faith that the game would be on!
It also meant I did wonder what I’d be watching. The bare facts were that Wimbledon Casuals play in the Surrey County Premier League, a feeder to the Combined Counties League, and play their home games at Elmbridge Xcel Leisure Complex , also home to Walton & Hersham. Sporting Bengal are based out of the Mile End Stadium and ply their trade in the Step 5 Essex Senior League, none of which seemed to give much of a clue as to why we were watching a game at Stepney Green? The clue seemed to be the towers of Canary Wharf in the background, and that Sporting Bengal do use Stepney Green as a training base. It may have been, nominally at least, a Casuals home game, but it was well and truly on Bengal territory. The Mile End Stadium also has a spectacular view of Canary Wharf.
The thought of what I was watching also extended to the teams’ selections. Based on status alone, you’d have expected that Sporting Bengal would have won this easily, but since the exact opposite happened I can only assume that they put out a severely weakened side. But for the neutrals there it didn’t really matter, the game was on, and we had an entertaining evening out. In fact I even got a train back to Hayes & Harlington as soon as I arrived back at Whitechapel.
It does pay to push the envelope sometimes.