Date: Saturday 8th February 2020
Leatherhead 3-1 Bishop's Stortford
Isthmian League Premier Division
Leatherhead - History
Leatherhead were founded in 1946 as a post-war merger between local clubs Leatherhead Rose and Leatherhead United, initially joining the Surrey Senior League. After winning the title in each of their first four seasons, the club moved up to the Metropolitan & District League for the 1950/51 season, before becoming founder members of the Delphian League the following season.
After seven unremarkable seasons in this league, the club joined the Corinthian League and became its last-ever champions in the 1962/63 season. With the league disbanding after this, the club joined the newly-formed Division 1 of the Athenian League and won the first Division 1 title to earn promotion to the Premier Division at the first attempt.
After eight strong seasons in the Premier Division, the club joined the Isthmian League for the 1972/73 season, before being placed in Division 1 the following season after restructuring. In the 1977/78 season, Division 1 was renamed the Premier Division and the club remained there for a further five seasons, before finishing bottom in the 1982/83 season to drop down to Division 1. At the end of the decade, the club suffered a further relegation to Division 2 South (which became Division 2 for the 1990/91 season).
It took until the 1996/97 season - which saw the club finish as runners-up in Division 2 - for the club to return to Division 1 level. However, after a respectable 9th-place finish in their first season back, the club struggled and were soon relegated back to Division 2 after a third-from-bottom finish in the 2000/01 season. After one season back in Division 2, the league was re-organised and the club were placed in the new Division 1 South.
After a series of bottom-half finishes, the club finished 5th in the 2009/10 season and reached the play-offs, but lost out to Folkestone Invicta in the semi-finals. The following season, the club finished 4th and reached the play-offs again, beating Dulwich Hamlet in the final to earn promotion to the Premier Division. The club were relegated back to Division 1 South at the first attempt, but won the play-offs again in the 2013/14 season (beating Guernsey and Folkestone Invicta) to return to the Premier Division, where the club have remained ever since.
In the FA Cup, the club went on a famous run to the 4th Round in the 1974/75 season, beating Croydon, Hornchurch, Dagenham, Walton & Hersham, Bishop's Stortford, Colchester United and Brighton & Hove Albion before losing to Leicester City. The club reached the semi-finals of the FA Amateur Cup in both the 1970/71 and 1973/74 seasons, but lost to Skelmersdale United and Ilford respectively. As for the FA Trophy, the club reached the final in the 1977/78 season, beating Banbury United, Dartford, Wigan Athletic Bedford Town and Spennymoor United before losing 3-1 to Altrincham. As for the FA Vase, the club twice reached the 2nd Round, most recently in the 1994/95 season when they beat Redhill and Thame United before losing to Stamco.
As with Farnham last week, this was a ground that had been on my radar ever since I started University late September 2017. Initially, I had been eager to visit in the 2017/18 season, as there were strong rumours at the time suggesting that the club were set to move ground (though, obviously, this never transpired).
At the time, I tried unsuccessfully to get tickets to their 1st Round match against Billericay Town, after which I decided to save it for later in the season. However, by that point it had become clear that they wouldn't be moving ground, so I decided to put it off for the 2018/19 season. A few times last season and early this one, I would look at visiting the club, only to see that their pricing was above what I would consider good value for money for Step 3 football (£12 for adults is way too much at this level, in my opinion).
This meant that I was actually reluctant to visit at all, despite knowing that the ground was an excellent one with plenty of character. However, at some point before Christmas, their website was completely reorganised and it became clear that they also offered £8 admission for students. With that, I decided to definitely get a visit in before the end of the season.
In amidst a huge pile of coursework in January, I would take small breaks here and there and start planning my groundhops for when I returned to University at the end of the month. Within that process, I initially pencilled in a visit to Leatherhead on the 7th of March. However, these plans changed several times due to other potential plans (and later ones are still likely to, for now) and I eventually ended up pencilling in this fixture instead.
Part of the appeal of choosing this particular match was the fact that, at the time I made the decision, former Norwich City striker Jamie Cureton was playing for Stortford, and I was interested to see him play for the first time since my first of ten or eleven seasons as a Norwich season ticket holder (way back in the 2007/08 season). However, as per my usual luck, he ended up leaving the club in midweek. This was rather disappointing, but I decided to stick with the plan regardless.
From that point, it was simply a matter of keeping an eye on the weather and hoping that Storm Ciara would be merciful and wait to arrive until after Saturday's football. Fortunately, this proved to be the case and it was another dry and sunny Saturday. This allowed me to order my train tickets early in the morning without any need to worry about a postponement.
After lunch, I left the house at around 1:25pm and, after collecting my tickets and getting cash out, got on the 2pm train to Leatherhead. This arrived 25 minutes later and it should have been a ten-minute walk from the station to the ground. However, I lost a few minutes trying to get through the ticket barriers, as Leatherhead is one of those stations where perfectly valid tickets simply don't work for some inexplicable reason.
After that, I lost a few more minutes here and there trying to cross some awkward and busy roads, as well as a further couple to Google Maps leading me the completely wrong way (I only figured this out by sheer chance, having noticed someone in a Leatherhead scarf heading in the opposite direction as I was about to go over a bridge). Eventually, I arrived at the ground at around 2:40pm, paying £8 for admission and £2 for the programme.
With less time than I would like before kick-off, I had to be reasonably quick with my circuit of photos, which wasn't easy at a characterful ground like this, not least because it isn't actually possible to do a full circuit: after getting all the way from one goal to the other, I had to go all the way back due to a gate blocking off the main stand. On the way to this point, one of the Leatherhead players had a quick chat with me, which caught me by surprise (the only other time I remember this happening was at Brockenhurst when the Hamworthy players spoke to me and asked me to take some photos).
When I was finally finished, I took a seat in the main stand near the far goal with minutes to spare, scrambling to get my phone photos onto Twitter and Instagram before kick-off, as well as scrambling to get a photo on my camera of the players lining up for the usual pre-match ceremonies. I remained in this seat throughout the match, despite the somewhat distracting presence of a loud supporter who spent most of the match berating the Stortford players and the officials.
Throughout the match, I struggled with the issue of my thermos flask constantly leaking out of the sealed lid, so it looks like I'll be needing my third one since December already (seriously, how hard is it to find a thermos that both keeps the drink warm long enough and also doesn't leak?).
With both teams having made numerous new signing during the week leading up to this match, it was hard to know what to expect in all honesty. When I was chatting with one of the players, he asked me who I thought would win and all I could really say was that I thought Leatherhead would because they were higher in the table. If I had known beforehand that Cureton had been Stortford's top-scorer before his departure, that would have undoubtedly enhanced that view.
Here's my report on a match that, despite being very stop-start throughout, was able to break my February curse and actually be an entertaining contest deservedly won by the home side:
Bishop's Stortford made the initial attacking pushes in this match, but there were no clear-cut chances early on as both teams struggled to establish a flow in a stop-start contest. Leatherhead were the first to establish a flow to their play, attacking with pace down the channels and causing the Stortford defence a lot of problems. This led to a good chance for Zach Robinson in the 19th minute, but he volleyed over from the cross.
The home side then had two chances in two minutes, one of which led to the opening goal: in the 22nd minute, Stefan Brown headed over from close range after a cross; then, after play resumed, Robinson had space to shoot from outside the box and neatly placed his effort into the top corner. Stortford had the next good chance in the 32nd minute when Craig Calver curled a shot goalwards from the edge of the box, forcing a fingertip save out of Leatherhead keeper Zaki Oualah. The rest of the half settled into a tense, stop-start impasse, so it remained 1-0 into half-time.
The second half got off to an exciting start as Leatherhead made it 2-0 in the 53rd minute, debutant Dan Rowe picking up the ball on the left wing, cutting inside and shooting low beyond Stortford keeper Fred Burbidge. Three minutes later, Stortford pulled one back against the run of play, Calver somehow breaking the offside trap and shooting into the post and in to score on his own debut.
Stortford tried to spur themselves on and push for an equaliser, but they struggled to match the work rate and intensity of Leatherhead's players, with the home side quickly regaining control. In the 68th minute, an aerial ball was played to Sam Blackman on the edge of the box and he controlled and volleyed narrowly wide, though there were strong calls for a Leatherhead corner as it looked like Burbidge got a hand on it. With fifteen minutes to go, the home side scored their third to secure the three points: Rowe volleyed a cross into the box and Brown got his head on it to score.
Despite there being minimal flow to proceedings due to the constant intervention of the referee's whistle, this was an enjoyable match to watch. Leatherhead were deserved victors, attacking with pace and purpose and just looking much more fit and determined than a Stortford side who offered little in front of goal besides the occasional set-piece.
As with last week, there was a lot of stoppage time in the second half, but fortunately I had plenty of time to spare to catch my train. After the ten-minute walk back to the station, I still had over twenty minutes to spare, losing a few of those to the station's moronic ticket barriers. The journey back was relatively quiet and, after stopping at Sainsbury's to pick up a few bits and pieces, I was back in the house at around 6:15pm, getting all my photos sorted and my match report written up before relaxing with dinner and a movie to end the evening.
Next week's groundhop is going to be dependent on how far I can stretch my money in the next week or so. I'm hoping I'll have enough to be able to pay a visit to Chichester City, but if not I'll be ending up at Kintbury Rangers instead.
As I've already mentioned a few times, Fetcham Grove is an excellent traditional ground with plenty of character throughout, and one that is clearly well-maintained too. There's cover on three sides of the ground, with the main stand being on the near side and consisting of a mixture of covered seating and covered terracing. I would guess that there's around 200 seats in all. The tea bar is also under cover on this side, between the seating and terracing.
Behind the near goal is a large area of terracing, around half of which is under cover. Behind the far goal is a more compact area of covered standing comprised mainly of scaffolding. This has a couple of steps of terracing on an otherwise flat side of the ground. Besides this, the rest of the ground is open hard standing, with grass banks behind the near goal and on the dugout side of the ground.
The ground apparently has an official capacity of 3,400.