Terrors End Losing Streak
Guest blogger Chris Nee reflects on Tooting & Mitcham United’s Boxing Day victory, bringing to an end a run of seven successive defeats, and give them hope for the new year.
When Jamie England’s in-swinging free kick found its way inside Nick Hamann’s far post to win Tooting & Mitcham United’s Boxing Day clash with local rivals Carshalton Athletic, the debate over whether Charlie Stimson got a touch on the ball was of little consequence. The win was a vital one for the Terrors and in 90 minutes it turned a potentially damaging festive period into a Christmas celebration to savour.
With Sutton United now playing in the division above, Carshalton represent Tooting’s closest rivalry in the Ryman Football League Premier Division and they should be formidable opponents. Notoriously monied, the Robins spent the summer assembling a squad of excellent Isthmian League players; last season their visit to Imperial Fields resulted in a 5-0 mauling of their hosts. If that hadn’t been enough to dampen spirits ahead of this Christmas derby, Tooting & Mitcham went into the game having won just one league game in 12.
2011/12 has been a trying season for fans of the Merton club. Before the Carshalton game they had dropped into the relegation zone, a reflection of abject showings on the field. Complications in the budget and behind the scenes did nothing to maintain stability at the club, and manager Mark Beard was unable to arrest his team’s slide into a chaotic, disorganised and ultimately ineffective unit that appeared entirely incapable of scoring or preventing goals. They say it’s hope that kills you; at Tooting, the lack of hope created a feeling of helplessness and inevitability about matches that was just as disheartening.
As every non-league fan knows, there’s more to life than results. A big part of the non-league experience is going to matches on Saturday afternoons and being able to identify with the players, even being able to talk to them after the game. Club legends matter, and at the very least it’s essential to have players in the clubhouse who’ve been around for a few years and will put their bodies on the line for their team and then hang out with supporters.
Unfortunately the hallmark of Beard’s time at Imperial Fields – although it’s very important to point out that he wasn’t fully to blame – was a quite shocking turnover of players that has resulted not only in new players showing up one weekend and disappearing the next, but also in some important players (on and off the field) departing. Jamie Byatt, Jason Henry and Aaron Goode (briefly) were among the handful of players who survived the last managerial change, which saw Beard replace Billy Smith after he and George Wakeling decided not to remain at Tooting after a severe budget cut after the 2009/10 season. All three now play for Kingstonian, which will be difficult to stomach for travelling Tooting fans at Kingsmeadow on January 2nd.
Two players who left the club before Beard took charge of his first training session were the popular Vines brothers, Joe and Paul. Paul now leads the line for Carshalton and played his part in a scintillating match that ended 4-3. Henry Marcel’s superb curling shot into the top corner gave Tooting – now managed by former West Ham United man Kenny Brown after Beard was sacked – the lead before new player-coach Bertie Brayley smashed a loose ball into the roof of the net to make it 2-0. Vines proved his worth before the break, finishing ruthlessly past Darren Behcet to pull a goal back for the visitors.
Within minutes of the start of the second half Carshalton were ahead. Paul Dipre had brought on Sonny Ayres and he turned the game on its head with two goals in quick succession, giving the afternoon a familiar and concerning hue for the home fans. Brown retaliated with a substitution of his own and got the same result. England’s first free kick equalised and has been rewarded online with the credit it deserves, and he followed up with the aforementioned set-piece cross that found the net with a deal of good fortune to spark a heartfelt celebration at full time, by which time Carshalton’s Tom Davis had been dismissed.
But the dramatic events of Boxing Day mean so much more than three points for a struggling side. With Brown now in charge and part of his brief from club management being to maintain some stability in the playing staff, the star performers from the derby should be in the line-up for some months to come. That has a huge effect in every aspect of a football club. Everybody knows that teams perform best when partnerships develop and the players get to know one another and how they play, where they’ll be on the field and what to expect. Relegation battles require unity and team spirit, characteristics that simply cannot be present with a revolving door of players.
Too much is made in football of fighting spirit and “heart”, but this was genuinely missing in Tooting’s poor run of form and as a result fans had little expectation of success in the looming challenge. The character displayed on Boxing Day was successful in the short-term but also reignited the spirits of the Bog End. The club now needs to steel itself for a mighty war of attrition in the second half of the season, because the threat of relegation is still very much on the horizon. Brown must unite his team and ready them for a difficult few months in which points are the only acceptable reward. The players must begin to improve Tooting’s fortunes on the pitch, particularly at the back, and also take pride in wearing the black and white shirt. It may be a cliche, but that’s been missing of late and it’s clearly been a problem.
The derby day victory over Carshalton lifted a heavy black cloud over Imperial Fields and was received with a curious mixture of relief and unbridled joy. 2012 is a big year for Brown, new CEO Joe Sealey and for the Bog End faithful. One much-needed result and a vastly improved performance means that Tooting & Mitcham can now embrace it with confidence and determination. Perhaps they could avoid the drop after all.
Many thanks to Chris for this article on his beloved Terrors. You can find Chris on quite a lot of the internet! He can be followed on twitter, @ChrisTSC, and he runs a website focused on the England National Team, which can be found at The Stiles Council. He also handles Tooting & Mitcham’s twitter page, @TMUFC.
For more information on the club, visit their official website.