In a world of indentikit, flat pack, concrete and steel stands Fetcham Grove remains one of my favourite grounds. From the fabulous art deco entrance and turnstile block, to the corrugated chaos of the old cowshed and through to the slot carved into the back of the stand by the bar where hard core drinkers can peer through and catch the game like perverts at an old-school Soho peep show, this is my kind of place and long may it reign as a reminder of days gone by.
My connections with Leatherhead go beyond nostalgia for the past and extend to both the personal and sexual and the siren calls from the lost days of youth. See, in the early to mid-seventies, when I was hanging out on the old cinder and sleeper terraces of the Sutton Curva Nord, trying to avoid Frakey and watching Ricky Kidd banging goals in for fun, some of my mates had headed off in the opposite direction and were getting their kicks on a muddy bank while a bunch of geezers in green & white performed out of their skins and marched their way into the history books.
Call me a glory hunter if you like but when Monkey Gillard and Clumsy Gus suggested that I join them for some of their famous late seventies FA Cup exploits I thought "fuck it, why not?". I’d been jealous and pissed off with them giving it the big one when they had their run to the fourth round and that epic game against Leicester in 74/75 while we were at home in the league to Tooting or some other wankers and the furthest I’d seen Sutton get to at that point was a first round replay with Bournemouth in 1975 – I’m no purist and so it was that I found myself rammed in the Cowshed for games against the likes of Colchester, Northampton and Wimbledon while seventies hoolie chaos reigned all around us.
|Concrete on the dance floor|
If you read Colin Ward’s book “Steaming In” he tells the story of those games in his early years as a teenage yobbo and he tells it well. Ward is an Arsenal fan and so are pretty much all of my mates from the Leatherhead area and there’s a brilliant story as to why. Back in the day, the only place you could ever buy a football jersey was the local sports shop. The tale goes that the old fella who owned the sports outfitters in Leatherhead was a Gooner and refused to stock anything other than the old fashioned red and white of Charlie George and the like. And hence this Surrey town became something of a North London footballing outpost for the most ludicrous of reasons but there you have it.
Anyway, time moves on and by the time the Pistols had turned the air blue on teatime television we had moved on from hi-waist Oxford bags and tank tops and were now young gun punks about town on the piss and looking for action. And by the late seventies there was one place that had become an unlikely but tried and tested fanny magnet – the Saturday night Leatherhead Football Club Discotheque – fifty pence in, no ID bollocks at the bar and afloat on a sea of hormones, Black Label and Barcardi and Coke. I'd discovered heaven in a place on the Guildford Road.
|Cowshed. Football terrace and outdoor sex hotspot.|
And so it was that one balmy night, high on testosterone and other substances, I made my move out on the dance floor in a story of pissed-up derring do that has been trailed in this blog and on social media platforms for the best part of ten years and which I'd always pledged would be told tabloid, no-hold-barred style next time we got to visit Fetcham Grove – even if it meant elbowing Surrey Senior Cup nutter the Duke of Sutton aside from his solemn duty to claim the spotlight. Well, tonight’s the night.
It starts with a girl, like it always does. I’d been casing out a young lady called Eileen and spotted her at the Ryka’s burger stand by the Epsom Clock Tower after the pubs one Friday evening. I gave her some verbals and acquired just enough information to get busy – she liked Dunhill International, rum and black and was going down to Leatherhead next Saturday evening. Ace in the hole. I didn’t want to look too keen though and gave it a cool "I might see you down there".
|Well, this happened...|
I think we got the train and I would have picked up Robbie Rhubarb (now exiled from these parts and one half of the Polegate U’s) and Kev The Freak – also exiled from these parts nowadays thank fuck – and the Welshman. I don’t know what I was wearing but it would have been at the height of the ska punk days so probably a pair of mohair slacks, a leather biker jacket, a Fred Perry and a pair of red suede creepers done up with guitar strings. Barnet, a flat top, possibly tinted orange, while I think Robbie was sporting a red leather biker jacket and a Travis Bickle Mohawk fondly known as the Dead Rat. Queue up ladies, there’s plenty to go round.
We would have spilled off the train and met up with some of the others, definitely Monkey Gillard and probably some of the other local likely lads including Hairy Mick and Ian “The Saint” Clement – the only bloke I’ve ever met capable of fellating himself. Fucking weird that Leatherhead lot. I won’t even tell you what Monkey Gillard’s party trick was as I don’t want this platform being shut down by the busy bodies. Even we have our limits here at Gandermonium.
|Slipper and splosh|
Remember that Saturday night buzz when you were a kid? I do. You can trundle around the trains of the UK to awaydays with your breakfast cans well into your later years all you want, but you will never be 18 again with that ripple of tension, expectation and Jack The Laddery coursing through your veins. And Leatherhead Football Club Disco was a great place to feel that bounce of expectation in your heels with your best mates firing off around you.
And there was Eileen. Playing it cool. I like that but it’s a fine line between avoiding eye contact and being fucking ignored. Anyway, I elbowed my way through the crowd with a rum and black in one hand and a packet of Dunhill in the other. It’s called attention to detail and for younger blokes - and women - reading this for tips on how to ride the old rocking rollercoaster you cannot buy advice like this for love nor money. But I’m putting a shift in and making little headway - partly due to one of her mates having the front to take the piss out my fucking brothel creepers! So I move back to the bar, plenty of time. The night is still young.
|"Now I've, had, the time of my life...."|
We are well cooked by now to be fair and through the fog of fag smoke, Brut, fake Chanel and ten bob strobe lights the DJ spits it out - disco dancing competition out on the floor with ten quid for the winner. Before I know what’s happening I’m bundled out on to the cleared space on the lino by my associates with a stark choice. Bottle it and look like a mug or give it some stick and look like a twat. I’ve never been one for showing off but I’m thinking - give it some comedy dancing, make all the girls laugh and I will be leaving here with ten quid on the hip and Eileen on my arm. So Kellie Marie it is and Christ knows who else, it was a long time ago, but I’m giving this the lot.
I think there was probably about half a dozen of us busting out the moves and I suspect I must have looked faintly ridiculous done up like the King of Ska Punk dancing to Bony M but I am in it to win it and after being bundled back on by giggling piss artists after a couple of attempts to leave the floor I see it through to the death and the crowd vote on the winner. How this worked beats me but I know it came down to the last two - me and some fella who looked like a short-arsed John Travolta with chronic acne. Was the final vote bent? Robbie thought so, as I was controversially edged out into second place. No VAR on this one.
|Questioning life choices|
I think I won a few beers out of it and I returned to the bar to wild cheering, back slapping, popular acclaim and to share the spoils with the lads but not before glancing round to give Eileen that wink that said “see you later darling”. But Eileen was leaving. Not only was she leaving , but she was leaving with another bloke. Everything I done out there on the floor, I done for you babe and you slung it back in my face. Anyway. No point moping about like Billy Bragg with his dreary old songs about unrequited love. We plugged on till closing and then I went home, cleaned me teeth, went to bed, knocked one out and got up for football with the old Epsom Magpies in the morning. Life goes on.
I saw Eileen around a bit after that but she had blown her chance and I think deep down inside she knew it. One little footnote to the story. Whenever I hear Dexy’s Midnight Runners number one floor stomper with its “too rye aye” hook and that sing along chorus I still get a lump in my throat. Because that was exactly what I was planning to do that night.
|Best it got all night...|
Anyway, enough of that looking back through rose tinted spectacles, let’s get back to business and this trip down to The Grove for the SSC clash. I train it down as the temperature drops but I’ve gone full sheepskin jacket tonight and don’t feel the harsh cold of the Surrey badlands. Before I pop into the bar I grab some shots of what is left of the dancefloor from the long-demolished old social club where the legendary discos were held and can’t help thinking that in years to come this stuff will be excavated and filmed for a series on Quest for those interested in the history of popular culture. I also stroll into an empty Cowshed, one of the most famous terraces in non-league football, with its corrugated iron, sleeper and concrete construction. On disco nights it rocked to the sweaty activities of couples bailing out of the club house. Decades on you can still almost taste the salty tang of spent bodily fluids in your throat. Marvellous.
In the bar me old mate Woody has come up for the night leaving someone else in charge of his boozer – the wonderful BAR 54 down in Horley – where in the close season we are planning a night mixing non-league football, punk rock and boozing. Who’s up for some of that then? Thought so. He’s also hooked up with Big Kevin, former member of local punk band The Head, with its “colourful” followers from back in the day, and who I haven’t seen in forty years. He’s another old punk who spends a lot of time in Spain, Girona in his case, where he has spent years persuading the ultras at his local club to welcome the side to the field with a chorus of “M M M M M M MY GIRONA” to that old Knack tune. I like that and I tell him so.
|More disappointment for you know who!|
Football. We put out a makeshift team and put in a makeshift performance and that is all you need to know. Dukey was a young man when he first started dreaming of Surrey Senior Cup success and every year the club has spat in his eye when it comes to the only trophy that matters to him as he careers towards the misery and perpetual disappointment of middle age. I hate to see a grown man cry but he carries the smell of dashed dreams around him like a shroud. There is nothing to be done.
Back in the bar at halftime the Leatherhead lot seem rightly pleased but Kev tells me that he has seen the club in nineteen cup finals now and they have LOST EVERY FUCKING ONE! That is a statistic to keep tucked away in your handbag next time you are bemoaning the fate of your football team. Anyway the game peters out into a three nil victory for the Head and I wish them well in the next round. As the whistle blows Tony Bacon and me have already edged towards the gate and we hot foot it over to the warmth of his motor and the short run back to the PROWS.
See you at Gravesend on Saturday.