Friday 15th April 2005

It's now or never for Beckenham Town

   Geoff Ward takes a look back at Beckenham Town's last appearance in the Kent Senior Trophy Final.

IT's 23 years since Beckenham Town’s last appearance in the Kent Senior Trophy. It was May 1982; Beckenham Town, managed by Willie Proud, had played their last London Spartan League match and were looking forward to joining the Kent League the following season.

Their opponents were fellow London Spartan Leaguers, Fisher Athletic, who were also about to go in search of pastures new with their new Docklands Stadium guaranteeing promotion to the Southern League and paving the way to the heady heights of Conference football, FA Cup glory, and the appointment of high profile manager Malcolm Allison.

But all that was to come: for the moment, the Kent Senior Trophy was the focus of everybody’s attention. For Beckenham, these were also heady times in their history; the previous season, they had secured their own ground, moving from the public open spaces of the dog walking paradise known as Stanhope Grove Rec to the “opulent surroundings” of Eden Park Avenue.

In those early days, a thriving social club membership considerably outnumbered the football club’s spectators and filled the club to bursting point every Saturday lunch time. However, visiting spectators were often surprised to see the lunch time hordes disappear home to sleep off their lunch time excesses rather than show the slightest interest in watching the feast of London Spartan League football on offer.

The Kent FA had wanted the final played at an inconspicuous venue during April, but Beckenham successfully argued against the decision seeing a Bank Holiday Monday as an opportunity to arrange an unlikely “marriage of convenience” between the alcohol enthusiasts of their social club and their sparse pool of football enthusiasts. It worked to considerable effect: Hayes Lane positively throbbed to the colour and noise of Beckenham Town supporters, swelling the gate to just under 700, and I’m reliably informed that the bar receipts record still stands nearly a quarter of a century later!

Meetings between Fisher and Beckenham were notoriously close-fought affairs, often played out in front of the Nissan hutted surroundings of Fisher Athletic’s Mitcham Common ground. It was a venue where spectators could share some of the more imaginative half time offerings with the digestively hardy dappled ponies who grazed the neighbouring field. Certainly, neither club was used to playing in the stadium like surroundings of Hayes Lane.

As for the final itself, John Palmer’s goal after seven minutes had promised much to Beckenham’s newly recruited “red army” as well as creating a sudden explosion of excitement in the bar.  Unfortunately, early promise turned into subsequent disappointment as Fisher showed their Southern League credentials to run out more convincing winners than the 3-1 score line suggested.

Nowhere amongst the 90 year annals of Beckenham Town’s history can you uncover the slightest clue to the club ever having won a senior trophy. I have an ancient Beckenham Town programme on the front of which is an old club badge with an unrecognisable Latin motto. I’m hoping that perhaps a modern translation would reveal that “whilst patience may be a virtue if suffered at length – beating Thamesmead Town on Saturday would be great!!”

Speaking to www.kentishfootball.co.uk on Friday afternoon, Beckenham Town's Jason Taylor admitted it was now or never for the Eden Park Avenue outfit to end their trophy less barren run.

"It's now or never.  We've lost our way a bit in the league since the semi-final," he said.

"I think we've had two or three players with their eyes on the cup final and the standards we've set have dropped slightly - we are hoping to put that right tomorrow and on the day we'll do ourselves justice."

However, Beckenham will be without talented striker Daniel Beszant, who will be out of action for a minimum of 12 weeks due to a broken leg, sustained playing Sunday League football.

"That's a blow to us, he got back into the side, did well and it's a shame he's missing," added Taylor.

How can Beckenham secure their first trophy? "We score goals, said Taylor. If we get back playing football again, we are fast on the break, we will beat Thamesmead Town.  If the right Beckenham Town turn up tomorrow we should win the game."

Beckenham Town want to finish as high in the Go Travel Kent League table as possible but their ultimate aim is to hold aloft the Kent Senior Trophy tomorrow afternoon.

Beckenham Town v Thamesmead Town
Kent Senior Trophy Final
Saturday 16th April 2005
at Whitstable Town FC, The Belmont, Belmont Road, Whitstable