Crystal Palace National Sports Centre Stadium, Penge
Kent Invicta League
Attendance: 52 (head count)
Match Rating: 3
Although I had pretty much decided on a trip down to Hampshire today, my mind was changed when I noticed at Friday lunchtime that AC London were offering free admission for their first home game of the season and as a senior club, giving me the opportunity to tick off my final ground in the Kent Invicta League. I had a strong feeling that I had saved the most unusual venue at this level until last.
The Crystal Palace National Sports Centre Stadium is located just a couple of minutes walk from Crystal Palace rail station, or about a 20 minute walk from the station I used, Penge East, and is located within Crystal Palace Park, a very pleasant recreational area with the National Sports Centre located opposite the stadium. One enters the stadium via a narrow walkway opposite the Sports Centre to enter behind one of the goals. Spectators then look over what is surely a unique venue at this level of football where crowds almost always are two digit numbers - a 16,000 capacity all-seater stadium, which regularly hosted international athletics events including the London Grand Prix for almost 60 years until the construction of the facilities at the Olympic Park. It is now rarely used for major sporting events, and indeed has been recommended for demolition recently. To the right of the entrance, seating continues all the way down the closest length and around the far corner. The area along the length is covered, with some abandoned press boxes located to the rear. The rest of the seating is uncovered. Along the other length is a separate stand , whilst there are no facilities between this stand and the entrance. A very old fashioned scoreboard, now in a sorry, unusable state with birds nesting inside, is located behind this goal. It was a quite surreal place to watch step 6 football, that just smacks of being wholly inappropriate for a club in the Kent Invicta League – far too large, consequently lacking any kind of football club feel or character, yet lacking basic essentials such as dugouts or refreshment facilities, and inevitably, spectators are a long way from the pitch. Putting the suitability of the stadium for Kent Invicta League to one side, it is quite sad to see a stadium that was up to a few years ago the home of UK athletics decaying badly now that it is no longer used for major events. An 8 page programme was produced, basic and rather self congratulatory in its content but at least they produced a programme, which was offered free of charge or for a donation, unlike Kent Football United last week in this league.
AC London have had, what would seem to outsiders, a decent start to life as senior club, and in only their third year in existence. They have won twice and drawn once of their opening six games, all away. It has not been good enough for their 20 year old manager, founder and chairman, who branded their position “disgraceful” in a recent interview with local football site, www.kentishfootball.co.uk , blaming amongst other things referees, injuries and other teams' styles of play. AC London certainly do not seem to be your average step 6 club, not that that is necessarily a bad thing. Eltham Palace, who I saw lose 7-0 at Glebe on August Bank Holiday Monday, have had a very difficult start to their season, having lost all but one of their seven league games so far, and have shipped 34 goals so far.
On a warm and sunny afternoon, the home side started the better, and deservedly took the lead on 16 minutes with a great shot from the edge of the area by Suliesmar Naves. They were given the chance to double their lead on 33 minutes when they were awarded a penalty for a trip in the area. Gerni Pugas placed the ball into the bottom left corner with the keeper flat footed. The visitors did have a couple of good chances to pull a goal back, but AC London certainly deserved their two goal lead at the interval.
AC London made the game safe five minutes into the second half when the goalkeeper spilled the ball and the ball eventually fell at the feet of Jo Chun, who drilled the ball low through a crowd of players and into the net. They should have scored a fourth on 57 minutes when the keeper spilled the ball again, but the striker rushed his shot and fired wide from a tight angle, when he had time to get in a better position. The visiting keeper, after receiving lengthy treatment, partly redeemed himself with a couple of very good saves, but the some did score their fourth on 82 minutes when the ball was curled in by Huender Santos, taking a deflection which wrong footed the keeper and the ball bounced into the net. In added on time, Eltham Palace scored a consolation goal that they just about deserved when the keeper seemed uncertain whether to claim a ball played forward, and their forward struck the ball inside the post. AC London thought they had scored straight from the kick off, with a shot from the centre spot catching the keeper out of his area and the ball dropped into the net, but the referee disallowed the goal. But they still comfortably won, without playing particularly well, with little communication in evidence between the players, but Eltham Palace again looked woeful today, particularly defensively, and it will surely be a very long season for them.
So it was indeed a rather surreal experience today, and in my opinion, AC London's inclusion in senior football does nothing to improve its credibility, with a ground that is vastly oversized and completely inappropriate for this level of football, yet lacks the basic facilities and organisation that one would expect from a venue hosting senior football, whilst clubs are forced into intermediate football just because they do not have floodlights or enough seats for the handful of people who turn up. Still, a different experience today, which is always welcome on my travels. It is still very early days for AC London, a club with friendly and certainly very ambitious officials, and I wish them well as they develop the club. I just get the feeling that the move to senior football has been offered to them too early in their development.