the real fa cup

Winner Takes It All

Ahhh, a good old Ryman League tear up!  The equation is simple. It’s Division 1 South. Automatic promotion is between two teams, there are two teams definitely in the play offs. There are three teams challenging for the final play off place. The team currently occupying that slot, Dulwich Hamlet, is travelling to the team directly below them, Walton & Hersham. The winners will gain a play off spot to face a team 3 places and a whopping 30+ points above them. Insert regular ‘fairness’ debate about play offs <here>. If this match is a draw, however, it might let in 7th placed team Burgess Hill Town who, until a complete collapse in form in recent weeks were default favourite to take the final spot.  It’s all crystal clear.

If you’re a regular to this site you’ll know the Hamlet are our local side and we’ve written much about them, so this is pretty much the last you’ll hear of them in this piece.  Walton & Hersham on the other hand are unusual in that they are complete unknowns to us. Given our Ryman addiction in the last two years they are one of the few sides who have never turned our heads. So, we did some reading, and, of course, based it round our joy, the Old Jug, the FA Cup.

At step 4 in the football pyramid a lot of clubs have ‘their’ story of FA Cup greatness, their cup final, their defining moment.  The Swans of Walton & Hersham are no different. In fact, in the early 1970s they had more than their fair share of joy in the old jug and were rightly feared. They were a team that all 3rd and 4th tier clubs would gladly avoid.

Before that period of success, W&H got their first taste of the propers when they progressed through seven 1957 FA Cup games against the likes of fellow Ryman side Hastings, future winners Wimbledon and fellow giant killers Sutton United.  The 1st Round brought Division 3 South side Southampton to Stompond but there was to be no shock yet, they lost 6-1 but had made their first mark.

It took a while for them to notch their second effort, mind, 12 years in fact.  The 1st Round saw them eventually lose to a high-flying but not yet fully-fledged football league club in Barnet. It was close though, they only lost 1-0 to that year’s FA Trophy finalists.  The following year, 1970 they dumped out Sutton United again, this time to book their place in the 1st round. It was an inauspicious exit for Sutton who only eight months previously had been hosting eventual Cup winners ‘Don Revie’s Leeds’ at gander Green Lane in a 4th round tie.  The draw was unkind, W&H failed to net a league side and ran into renowned FA Cup giant killers Telford.  They lost 5-2.

The following year they fell at the final qualifying hurdle but 1972 was the zenith – and they got their first league scalp.  Only a Division 4 side at the time Exeter City were nevertheless a good one, despite going through a period of struggling to get past non-league sides in the FA Cup. The Grecians crept past Crawley after a replay a year earlier and got knocked out by Alvechurch the year after the Swans beat them. But beat them they did, 2-1, and the Surrey side went on to lift the FA Amateur Cup with Dave ‘Harry’ Bassett in their ranks.

The ‘reward’ for their first proper giant killing was a shocker. Instead of getting the bounty of another, bigger league side, the Swans drew fellow giant killers Margate. Margate were probably equally as miffed at the time, they’d just knocked out the Welsh Swans, at that time in Division 3, and were certainly hoping to avoid the tricky prospect of the English variant. That season, though, was Margate’s, they beat W&H 1-0 and earned a plum 3rd Round tie against Spurs, which of course they lost 6-0.

Before the lean times of the 80s and 90s set in, Walton & Hersham had one last tilt and this was, with hindsight, probably the most odd and remarkable.  In 1973, their fourth foray into Round 1 in five years, they were drawn against Brighton & Hove Albion.  Having held the Division 3 side at home it was feared that was probably going to be it for the Swans.  Brighton had a new manager who the season before was facing down Juventus in the European Cup, a certain Brian Clough. Clive Foskett scored a hatrick at the old Goldstone Ground but he wasn’t playing for Brighton, he was playing for Walton and they whacked Cloughie’s Seagulls 4-0.

In the next round W&H got another bum draw.  They were drawn to face brand new football league side Hereford United who were smack bang in the middle of their four year rise from Southern League to Division 2!  The Bulls ran out comfortable 3-0 winners and consigned Walton & Hersham to the doldrums for another 20 years.  So, from hammering a club managed by a League Champion, future European Cup winner and self confessed legend, W&H had just lost to a team who only a few months earlier were in reality just one tier above them in the football league pyramid. Funny old game, Saint.

The club regrouped in the mid-2000s with long serving player and current Kingstonian manager Alan Dowson at the helm before getting relegated again in 2007.

Back to the matter in hand, form is dicey among all three of the play off challengers.  Walton & Hersham have won just once in their last five but have drawn a few and have been muddling along. Burgess Hill Town have lost four of their last five and, a point against Dulwich aside, they have been woeful.  Hamlet have, frankly, come from a position that looked beyond them when they lost 2-1 at home to Worthing a few weeks ago and again when they could only draw with Burgess Hill Town last week. So, thanks to a few wins, in truth, Hamlet are in the best form of the three but aren’t exactly firing on all clinders, they have simply profited from the failure of others.

If we were betting men, we’d probably suggest that the game will be a draw and BHT will fail to beat a decent Ramsgate side who are just two points behind them but who mathematically can’t quite reach the play offs themselves. But, hey, this is effectively a cup final so anything can happen.

Ryman Division 1 South
Walton & Hersham .v. Dulwich Hamlet
Saturday 30th April, 3pm, £8
Walton-on-Thames is the closest rail station, 25-34 mins from Waterloo depending which train you get.  We’ve been recommended the Ashley Park pub near the station and reckon we should be there by about midday, though there does appear to be several decent boozers nearer the town centre and towards the river.

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