Leatherhead. Now there’s a blast from the past. Of all of the games I’ve ever been to in my 45 years of watching football – and I’d hazard a guess that must be pushing a couple of thousand – very few stick in the memory. Cup finals with Forest, the European Cup win over Liverpool at the City ground, Hillsborough of course… and Leicester v Leatherhead in 1975. The City team at that time had some very classy players, not least Frank Worthington who still rates as my all-time favourite footballer, but they had to pull out all the stops to avoid being dumped from the cup by a non-league side… and the ‘Leatherhead Lip’.
I’m taking advantage of one of National Express’s £3 return trips to London (a third of that cost being a credit card fee!) and with the tight schedule involved, Leatherhead is the ideal match choice, weather permitting. I do a bit of pre-trip research and key ‘Leatherhead Lip’ into Google, and Chris Kelly – or should that be ‘Kele’ – crops up. He was the guy who almost got the Tanners past their Division One opponents, scoring his side’s second before Leicester’s stirring second-half fightback. I was at that game, standing on Filbert Street’s old ‘Pop’ side where the lack of segregation saw a mass of green & white-clad fans augmented by a group of militant Forest supporters who happened to call in when their own game was postponed. Mayhem! Ah, they were the days!
My research takes me to a website called The Lip where, amongst other things, I discover that a group of Italian Subbuteo enthusiasts meet up once a month to recreate entire FA Cup campaigns, including every one of the 64 ties of the 1974/5 season from the Third Round proper. Clearly, I haven’t lived!
I’m wrapped up warm against the cold but the forecast is that it will stay above freezing..just! I’m looking forward to the game too, as I see that Leatherhead are seven points clear at the top of the Isthmian League Northern division, whilst visitors Corinthian-Casuals only hauled themselves off the bottom at the weekend. The odds say that a goal frenzy is on the cards. But first I must eat, and catching an earlier train from Victoria to Leatherhead than I planned allows me to check out the local Wetherspoons, and a Gourmet Vegeburger with my pint.
In truth Wetherspoon’s food is very rarely more than a good value stomach-filler. I don’t think Egon Ronay would linger too long. But you get what you pay for, and I for one keep coming back for more. Give me a big plateful every time! I read in the Wetherspoons magazine that there is some Leicestershire bloke whose ambition it is to visit every one of their pubs and he’s up to 800. Some people should get a life, you wouldn’t catch me doing anything remotely like that……
The ‘stadium’ is about a ten minute walk from the station – and the town centre – and resides in a reasonably leafy environment. There’s an interesting facade to the main entrance, whilst the ground itself is primarily flat standing apart from a ramshackle collection of covered stands down one side, and a small cantilever-roofed terrace behind one goal. I pop into the spacious clubhouse which sadly lacks any cask ale, but there are a few bottles in the fridge – Black Sheep, Tanglefoot and the likes – and I select a London Pride. There’s a food hatch outside but apparently nothing for the veggie.
The teams emerge and there’s the spectacle of two of the more unusually attired outfits in the league, the green and white of the home side blending nicely with the pink and maroon of the visitors. And it’s the Casuals who haven’t read the script, taking the game to the league leaders, pinching an early goal, riding their luck and being good value for their half time lead. Leatherhead are lucky – if this had been the Premier League they would be being booed off. One or two niggling injuries upset the flow of the match, and I pause to ponder why it is that most physios, when rushing to tend to the victim, adopt a gait that suggests that their underpants are way too tight.
For much of the second half it’s the battling visitors who hold sway, fighting for every loose ball and just about doing enough to keep Leatherhead’s strangely shot-shy attack at bay. The crowd of 170 hardy souls plus me, all but six having turned up expecting to see Casuals take a sound drubbing, can’t quite fathom it. The 28-goal strikeforce of Andrews and Hutchings is misfiring badly and appears toothless. Oh for a Chris Kelly and a bit of that lip.
Programme: £2 on the turnstile. Nothing to write home about.
Floodlight Pylons: 8
Parakeets: I’m getting a little worried, I haven’t seen one this season!
Tannoy music: The Tannoy is very clear and booming, but the record player is obviously out of order.
Toilets: Couldn’t see any in the ground
Club Shop: A little hut just outside the clubhouse, ground-side
Player with the quirkiest name: C-C’s ‘gary’ Mu Man (yeah I know that’s not brilliant…)