Saturday 8th April 2017, 1500 KO
Metropolitan Police FC vs Needham Market FC
Today’s ground of choice was Imber Court in East Molesey, for the Ryman League Premier Division match between Metropolitan Police FC and Needham Market FC.
Imber Court is a nice ground, and closely aligned to the actual Metropolitan Police. Met Police FC were historically the football club of London’s police force, but when the Commissioner removed leave privileges for players, the number of serving officers in the squad dwindled. There have been no serving Met Officers representing the club since 2011, and they are associated in name only.
The visitors, Needham Market, had a long journey from their Suffolk base, but still comprised the majority of the roughly 80 person crowd. Having been promoted as Division One North champions in 2016, Market have taken to this league like ducks to water, beginning the day in 6th, but joint on points with those occupying the playoff positions – Dulwich Hamlet, Tonbridge Angels and Leiston.
As for the Met, sitting in 16th on 50 points they would hope to be safe, but in a league with four games to play, and only 7 points separating 12th and 23rd, it would be a brave man to predict who will join Grays for the drop. Having lost the reverse fixture 1-0, the Met Police could really do with turning around their run of two recent losses to secure safety.
I arrived a good hour and a half prior to kick off, bought my ticket and programme (£10 and £2) and went for a wander. In short order, I was noticed snapping away by the goalkeeping coach during the warm up. Displaying top drawer OpSec he approached me to ask what I was up to and once assured that I wasn’t a garden variety weirdo (matter of opinion) introduced me to the first team coach – 6 time capped Barbadian international Jon Nurse – and other club officials. As with all the clubs I have visited so far, all those I met were massively welcoming, to the extent that a half time invite to the club officials’ lounge was extended.
So, ready for the game, I conducted the obligatory scran pit stop for a very pleasant hot dog (onions, of course) and diet coke. I should also point out that the club has tunes blaring out from the main stand pre-match – it’s the first club I’ve visited that do that, and coupled with the stunning weather, there was a really good summery atmosphere to proceedings.
And away we went.
Within minutes, it was almost time for the Met Police to celebrate. In the third minute, a whipped free kick was met by the head of right back Will Salmon who somehow managed to put it over the bar from approximately 14cm out. Minutes later, ‘keeper Brannon Daly was forced into a smart low save at the other end to prevent an own goal after a low cross into the box.
The game was a fairly turgid affair in the first half, with a lot of endeavour and aggression, but a lack of quality on the ball from both teams. One bright spark was Met Police forward Lloyd Macklin. A striker with league experience at Swindon and Torquay United his quality and strength on the ball was evident throughout. Indeed, it was Macklin who provided the only real moment of quality in the first half when he lobbed a volley from twenty yards which was athletically tipped onto the bar by the Needham ‘keeper – a man who didn’t look like athleticism would really be in his locker, so fair play.
The only other real incident of note was when one of Needham Market’s coaches was sent off for continuous verbals to the ref – who certainly gave as good as he got on that front – another nice change from the airbrushed world of the PGMOL. In an endearingly non-league approach to being sent off, the coach simply took his place in a seat about four metres behind the dugout and play continued. Nil-nil at half time.
If the first half was a cocktail-sticks-in-the-eyes affair to stay awake, the second half was anything but, and barring a ten minute spell at the beginning of the half was dominated by the boys in blue.
However, it was Needham Market who threatened first, a lovely curled shot from outside the area by their number 10 drifting just wide of the far post. This would serve to be an unheeded warning as the same player opened the scoring minutes later, when in the 55th minute captain Steve Sutherland’s poor clearing header fell to the number 8 who played the ball through and the 10 coolly lifted the ball over an onrushing Daly. One nil.
The Met Police dugout sprang into action at 60 minutes and brought on former T*ttenham academy player Roman Michael-Percil. Recently signed from Dulwich Hamlet, he had informed me pre-match that he was carrying an injury, but if he got on could I please get some decent photos of him. As an ex-Sp*rs player I was loath to oblige, but he was so involved in the remainder of the match, I couldn’t really miss him…
This match also brought an event I haven’t seen since I was about 13, namely, a foul throw actually awarded. Two in fact. The ref seemed to have a bit of an issue with throw ins, turning one around in the second half as well, to an obligatory chant of “You don’t know what you’re doing” from the Market fans.
A second substitution on 65 minutes and on came Ola Sogbanmu into midfield. From this point on, the trio of Sogbanmu, Macklin and Roman-Percival tore pieces out of the Needham Market backline and it only looked a matter of time before the equaliser would come.
It almost came through Sogbanmu after 70 minutes, when Ryan James flicked on a long ball and Sogbanmu found himself clean through in the six yard box. However, his slightly scuffed shot was saved by the Needham ‘keeper who then watched on astonished – along with everyone else – as Michael-Percil hit the post and wide with the goal gaping.
With the next attack though, the Met were level. A foul in the box resulted in a penalty, which was duly dispatched by Republic of Ireland U21 international (what?!) centre forward Charlie Collins.
The Met Police then proceeded to hammer at the door. Ryan James put a header just over the bar in the 75th minute, another header was cleared off the line by Needham’s left back in the 82nd minute, and surely the chance to win was gone when Sogbanmu missed an open net with a back post header from Macklin’s inch perfect left wing cross.
Just as the Met Police fan next to me was just on the verge of tears (potentially hyperbole) Roman Michael-Percil picked the ball up back to goal around 25 yards out. A clear shout of “Turn!” from the midfield and he was head up running towards the area. He pushed right, and beat two Needham Market defenders for pace. Just as it looked he’d pushed it too far right, he struck the ball sweetly into the top left corner and the game was won. It was a fantastic individual goal, and one of the best 93rd minute winners you’re likely to see.
I think on the balance of the game, 2-1 was a fair result, and it should also be said that the referee was good throughout. I thought that Macklin up front was the stand out player in this game. His football league pedigree was evident as his hold up play, and running at the defence was first class. Centre back Rob Bartley impressed as well – built like the proverbial brick shit house and could probably have done a job on the flank for Bath just a few miles away. Michael-Percil and Sogbanmu also changed the game when they came on – the tired Needham Market defence just couldn’t cope with their pace and close control.
With results elsewhere going in their favour, the Met Police now find themselves 5 points clear of the drop zone, and will hope that one more win can secure them Premier Division football again next year.
As a final note, the Met Police have comfortably the lowest attendance in the league – a season average of just 132, compared to the top attendances at Dulwich Hamlet which averages at (a frankly astonishing) 1,291. At only ten quid, and such a friendly club, it’s a real pity more people don’t come down to watch them on a weekend. The football on show is quality, and played with a real passion, but without the nonsense and theatrics of top flight football. For absolute clarity, it may be Tier 7, but every player on that pitch is better than you and I. They’re better than the best player you’ve played with too.
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