THE OLD GRAMMARIANS' FOOTBALL CLUB
A Personal History of Old Grammarians' Football Club (part 1)
I have been involved with the football club for 40 years having made my debut in 1969 and am still playing now on the rare occasions when the Vets are struggling for numbers, and blowing the whistle when they are not. What follows is a fairly personal account of the Club’s history with an emphasis on the period I have known, but recognising the contribution of those that preceded us.
My first direct encounter with the OGs came in 1965 when as a lowly 5th former in the school first team I turned out in the annual School v OG encounter then played on the school field. These games were known to be special – if I recall correctly in my earlier years we had actually been given time off school to watch. Del Lawrence was OG captain that day and the School were led by Roy Payne and included someone who became an England international albeit in another sport, Mike Selvey, as a powerhouse centre forward. It also included from my year one Paul Imison who went on to play for England schools under 18 side. Tom Marshall gave us his usual pre-match warning about watching out for hard tackles as we were playing against grown men – I was never sure how we were meant to play any differently than usual. In the event on the small pitch goals flowed, and we ended up drawing 6-6 and I managed to put a couple past John Speller. The next year a similar pattern followed and we ended up drawing 4-4 this time. After this the OGs decided that they were struggling to put out a good side playing afternoon mid-week so the game was switched to a Saturday at Burntwood Lane. I was School captain that season and if the OGs had wanted to ensure success they came unstuck losing 1-0 against possibly one of the best teams that had represented the school. Thus I had the rare privilege while at School of never having lost to the OGs.
These games were a good opportunity for the OGs to talent scout and although I never played for the OGs while at school and then went straight to university, I was duly recruited by Derek to play a few games during vacations. One abiding memory is travelling by bus to the Club on Boxing Day from Surrey where it had snowed heavily, to play in the then traditional ‘friendly’ game against arch rivals Sinjuns. Sadly we got well beaten but a great time was had by all. What a contrast to today when no football is played at all throughout the entire two week Christmas period – only the Vets played on 3rd January this year! On leaving university in 1971, I was fortunate enough to join Derek’s 1st XI and what a team it was, probably the most successful in OG history to that point, winning SOL Senior 2 and getting to both the League Cup final and Old Boys Cup final. We gave a very good account of ourselves in both but sadly weren’t quite strong enough to match the powerful Penguins and O. Easthamians teams. The usual side that year was Mowlam, Austin, Lawrence, Wylie, Greenfield, Rowley, Petch, Payne, Holloway, Gaddis & Clark (M). Not a bad line up with a lot of creativity and a defence which took few prisoners.
I went back to university the following year and, with the loss of a couple of other players as well, the team struggled in the top flight and were immediately relegated. The following season was rather nondescript and I was then selected to captain the side in 1975-76. The team was boosted by the return of Ray Gowan from S. Africa where he had played semi-pro football, and the arrival of a young Terry Withers who joined such future stars of the club as Pete Hill and Dave Ludford. I was proud to lead the side to their first ever senior cup trophy, the Old Boys Cup, won 4-3 after a thrilling final which went to extra time against the sadly now defunct O. Monovians club. The joyful pitch invasion at the end won’t easily be forgotten. One cup final day story: sadly Del Lawrence got injured the week before, but, being the trooper he is, was desperate to play so insisted on having a pre-match fitness test. He admitted he was very doubtful so I called up Steve Wren as the probable replacement, which was a bit of a gamble as Steve was a left back then playing usually in the 3rds and it meant shuffling the defence. We got hold of a mini-bus and met at the club, Steve was nearly an hour late - remember there were no mobile phones and no subs in those days – and we arrived at the ground which was miles away in outer NW London barely 10 minutes before KO. In the event Del was unfit and Steve played a blinder, along with the rest of the team and Pete Hill cracked in a late winner. The regular side that year was Stoddart, Withers T, Lawrence, Smith T, Preddy, Holloway, Rowley, Petch, Hill P, Gowan & Ludford.
Two uneventful years of my captaincy followed, although importantly we consolidated our position in the 1st Division, before the young Terry Withers took over as skipper and brought a whole new approach to the game. This was professional and determined, and some might say ruthless and did lead to some problems in the club partly with discipline, but on the field it brought unparalleled success. Adding to an already solid and experienced side with the likes of Rowley, Ludford and Pete and Roddy Hill, he recruited Bob Hards, then playing semi-pro, and new prospects coming through, like the Steves Kiy and Lee, and Ian Davies. With training increased and now obligatory, and set pieces perfected, the side made rapid progress. In Terry’s first year in charge we reached the unheard of heights of an AFA semi final, unluckily losing 2-1 to Lloyds Bank. Just to prove even the best are fallible, Terry erred that day in leaving out one P. Hill, a fact that Pete will remind you of over a pint anytime you care to buy him one! We did however win the London Old Boys Cup, a competition that we entered for the first time.
London Old Boys Cup Winners 1979
Back Row: Peter Rowley, Steve Lee, Dave Cullen, Bob Hards, Roddy Hill
Front Row: Dave Petch, Adrian Withers, Terry Withers, Dave Ludford, Pete Hill
(Steve Kiy was not present for photograph)
AFA Senior Cup Winners 1980
Back Row: Peter Philpott, Peter Rowley, Steve Lee, Dave Boynton, Bob Hards, Roddy Hill, Steve Kiy
Front Row: Dave Petch, Ian Davies, Terry Withers, Dave Ludford, Pete Hill
As every OG should know, the following year we went one better, reaching the AFA final and in an emotional afternoon at Norbury gained revenge over O. Easthamains 2-1. We were probably not the best footballing side ever, but we certainly had fitness, organisation and determination in bucket loads. Terry went on later to coach semi-pro football and subsequently would say that what we also had above all, unlike some of the paid players he worked with afterwards, was football intelligence - the ability to play to our strengths, to follow a plan and know when or when not to take risks.
The following two years brought further success, an unprecedented 2nd victory in the AFA Cup, two London Old Boys Cups and a League Championship, as well as victories in the League and other 6 a side competitions. This arguably made us the strongest club in London amateur football for the period. The 2nd AFA victory was a tight encounter with arch rivals O. Parmitarians (motto according to their comic chairman ‘retaliate first’), a 0-0 draw in the first match being followed by a slightly controversial winner to make it 2-1 in the replay. Watching that day with me was the late great Peter Rowley and this was sadly the last we ever saw of Pete as he moved to Ireland shortly after, only tragically to die within the year. The winning team was: Boynton, Withers T, Hill R, Smith T, Phipps, Philpott, Hards, Kiy S, Hill P (came on as substitute), Withers A, Ludford and Davies I, playing in an unusual 3 –5 –2 formation.
Sadly after this, some of Terry’s antics on and off the field led him to fall foul of the then club committee which decided to remove him from the captaincy thereby ensuring his departure from the club, The 1st team continued to enjoy success under a number of different captains over the next decade but could never quite reach the heights of AFA Cup victories ever again. Bob Hards followed Terry as skip and won the League Cup in 1984-85. Next came the leadership of Steve Batley and another great OG 1st team. Steve led the side with strength and enthusiasm and the side combined this with a fair degree of flair. In 1986-7, in his first year they won both league and league cup. The side that year comprised the following regulars: Willows, Tushingham, Batley, Phipps, Lawson, Shaw, Hards, Young R., Philpott, Gardiner, Dawkins, Gow, Garcia & Ludford. After that great season they continued to come close to further honours reaching the league cup final a few years later but never managed to lift a trophy.
Looking back over the 10 seasons from 1977-78 to 1986-87 the success of the club was truly exceptional with the 1st team winning a total of 16 trophies – 2 AFA cups, 2 first division titles, 3 league cups and 2 London Old Boys cups, plus 3 League 6 a side tournaments and 4 invitation 6 a sides. Remarkably we never lost a cup final. Additionally other sides in the club managed to win trophies – 3 for the 2nds, 1 for the 3rds, 2 for the 4ths and 1 for the 5ths. Season 1980-81 was probably the pinnacle of achievement with the club overall wining 6 trophies amongst 4 sides. What went wrong from the dizzy heights of this success is difficult to analyse. To me probably the most important factor was the demise of BGS and our close connection with the school, tied in with much more geographical mobility in society generally. Slowly we had to transform our essential nature to become a totally open club, and although we recruited and sometimes retained plenty of excellent players, the ethos and commitment was never quite the same.
Since then success has been harder to come by and sadly the 1st XI has not managed to win anything further. More recently under the leadership of Steve Embleton (a midfield player in the Brian Robson mould who would have challenged for a place in some of the great teams) we have done well, reaching the semi finals of the AFA cup before losing, with a weakened side , to the extremely strong O. Meadonians. This match in itself is an illustration of one of the differences between today and the previous era – there is just not the same level of commitment as there was before with players not so regularly available as they once were with other commitments like stag weekends, skiing holidays, other weekend breaks, work, heavy colds, and even, God forbid, shopping trips sometimes taking precedence over the Saturday match. In my day you would have even missed your own funeral to turn out! It must be very difficult for the modern captain constantly having to change teams. I’m sure when I was skipper most weeks I could pick the same 11 and it was only injury which usually ruled people out.
Obviously I have focussed my report on 1st XI achievements as the highest playing point in the club. Other sides have obviously done well, most notable among them Geoff Couchman’s 2nd team of the early 1970s and Del Lawrence’s of the early 1980’s, both of which did league and cup doubles. Also Kevin Dickens’ 4 XI which I was proud to participate in and which won Minor A division in 1986-87 with a 100% record. Our Vets side have also recently enjoyed success reaching the AFA final back in 1993 and winning it in 2005, and reaching the semis in 2007 only losing in one of the inventions of the modern game, a penalty shoot out. Extraordinarily we contrived to miss 5 pens, all of them avoiding the goal completely – the old legs must have gone. Perhaps it is what pressure does – I wonder if they practiced them beforehand just in case? Of the winning Vets side only Steve Batley and Leighton Dawkins were genuine Old Grammarians.
Individuals I would like to pay tribute to include Terry Worster who played over 800 games for the club over a 30 plus year period plus being one of our key organisers along with Alan Millhouse who, as well as playing, captained teams and ran the bar for many years. Many still remember his daughter’s excellent sausages and his mother’s cleaning prowess. A mention for Alf Lee (now sadly departed) from an older generation who still turned out to play in goal once for the 7th XI in his mid 70’s – he let in a hatful but apparently none were down to him! Also Ted Young, who recently departed us, who ran the bar for a number of years. I apologise for all those others who I haven’t mentioned who served the club so well over the years either as captain or club official, or as longer serving reliable players.
One of the clubhouse debates has always been what was the greatest team to play for the club and who was the best player. For the former my vote would be for the first AFA winning side, given that it broke new ground and worked so hard to achieve the success it did. It was also the last OG first eleven to consist entirely of actual Old Grammarians, as honorary members began to play an ever-increasing role in the club thereafter. My vote for best player must go to Peter Rowley, closely followed by Roddy Hill and Dave Ludford. I have excluded Leroy Rosenior who played a season as a schoolboy for my 2nd XI and half a season for the firsts before being signed by Fulham and then on to West Ham in the old First Division. His experience makes one wonder what some of our other players might have achieved with either more luck or desire to play pro football, as when he left us at 19, although he was very good and had great potential, no-one thought he was so outstanding. Also excluded is Bobby Brown from the older generation who played for England Amateurs and Man U as an amateur and you can’t do much better than that.
My best team from all who played regularly would be Boynton, Shaw, Withers T, Lawrence, Smith T, Rowley, Hards, Hill R, Hill P, Ludford and Davies I. Subs Willows, Austin, Batley, Kiy S & Gowan. From the more recent era two players who might push hard for a place would be Tim Redman and the last captain of the OGs, Steve Embleton who regularly scores over a dozen goals a season from midfield. As probably everyone is aware, Old Grammarians’ Football Club ended as an entity with the decision in 2005 to amalgamate both the football and cricket clubs with Old Sinjuns. Obviously 2 Old Boys clubs with no schools to draw from and sharing the same ground was never going to be a sensible long-term proposition, and, although a sad day for some of us, amalgamation was no doubt the right course of action. The title Sinjuns Grammarians, although unwieldy, keeps the tradition alive although for some OGs the decision to use Sinjuns bar in the football season was an anathema. The cricket section sensibly chose to use our clubroom, so if any OG fancies a summer pint on a warm Saturday evening then you could call in, especially as the cricket is well worth watching, with the 1stXI reaching the dizzy heights of the Surrey Championship DIV 4. Thanks to the new female bar manager there are even fairy lights round the bar, but only bottled beer!
Sadly the football has not prospered as well as the cricket. When we joined together the OGs had 5 league sides plus Vets, and Sinjuns 3 plus a Sunday Vets. The decision was made to initially run 8 league sides, but this proved unwieldy and administrative problems like poor captaincy led to it being rapidly reduced to 4 sides only, plus one Sat. vets, which is weaker than nearly at anytime in modern OG history. They do, however, run some youth football on a Sunday. The 1st team continues to be strong, playing in the 1st division (there is a Premier) of the new powerful Amateur Football Combination, which itself is an amalgamation in 2003 of our old Southern Olympian League and the Old Boys League. One of the advantages of the larger league is that it has enabled regionalisation outside the top three divisions, so no more journeys to the delights of clubs like Libertians on the road to Southend which we all remember with such fondness - well at least the stop off at the Star or the George on the return journey.
When joining the club one became immediately aware of its great traditions and long history and I certainly remember being welcomed by Vets like Jack Hancock, Derek Lockwood, Bert Garrard, all sadly no longer with us. They used to give the bar such a good trade in those days, prior to the crackdown on drink driving. For the next edition I will write a second article focussing on the earlier years of the club pre late1960’s and pay tribute to some of the clubs founders, those who revived the club after the war, and then, like Jack, helped to lay the strong foundations for the modern era.
Dave Petch (1961-1968), April 2009